Friday, July 8, 2022

The role of the financier. (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Finance, we are told, is the sinew of modern industry, the base upon which commercial operations rest, and the controller, in high finance, is one of the worshipful company of captains of industry. Now and again there is a storm in financial circles, one of its star performers comes to ruin, the veil is torn aside, and we get a glimpse of the nature of financial operations.

Such an instance has occurred lately with the ruin and suicide of the financier, James White. A fellow financier, Sir Edward Mackay Edgar, made a statement to the Daily News (2/7/27) from which we extract the following :—
 “Thousands of people will be ruined as the result of the wild speculations of the late Mr. James White. Already two of his closest friends have gone ‘broke,’ and God alone knows what will happen within the next fortnight. It will be the sensation of the 20th century in the matter of finance.

“The British Controlled Oilfields is my baby. I organised it and got it into a fine position. It was the aim of Jimmy White to obtain as many shares as possible and force up the price. Then he hoped to sell and realise a fortune. That was as far back as three years ago. I would not consent because of the advice of technical experts on the spot.

“On the Thursday before Good Friday, Mr. White came to me and asked me to join a pool to force up the price of B.C.O. shares. For five hours I was on my hands and knees in my flat imploring him not to engage in such a mad venture, knowing that disaster could be the only result. He left me that night, and I have only seen him once since.

“He entered upon a bitter campaign to reduce me to financial ruin. He failed in his efforts. He bought shares right and left. He relied upon by group of friends selling short. We never unloaded a single share, but kept them, and we knew that White on June 30th would have to meet his enormous commitments or go ‘broke.’ This last effort of his was a gambler’s last throw of the dice. I knew the crash was coming. All my friends were aware of it.”
The interesting side to us in the above statements is the fact that the foundations of modern industry are so frail that men like White can play ducks and drakes with it and bring chaos where order should reign, by indulging in lawful financial operations. Instances such as this bring to the front the question, “What is the object of industry?” Is it to provide people of a peculiar nature with an outlet for a glorious gamble, or is it to provide society with means to meet the mental and physical needs of the people composing society. Evidently our “great”captains of industry hold the view that the earth and the fulness thereof was made for their sport and enjoyment—and we are merely items too cheap to be worthy of consideration.

Larkin protests. (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the October issue we dealt with the Irish Election and the confusion caused by the conflicting policies of English and Irish Communists. We pointed out that while Larkin supported the Republicans and opposed the Labour Party, the English Communists who supported Larkin supported the Labour Party too. It appears that Larkin is not satisfied with this, and in the “Workers’ Life" (September 30th) is a statement to the effect that Larkin and his Irish Worker League have protested against what they regard as an “error” on the part of their English Communist colleagues. The matter is to be referred for a ”full report and discussion” to the Central Committee of the C.P.G.B.

It is, however, amusing to observe the ground on which Larkin objects. “The Irish Worker League, alone of all Irish political groups, is carrying on a revolutionary fight on behalf of the Irish working class.” (Italics ours.)

Larkin, with a peculiar logic of his own, while opposing the Labour Party because “The Irish Worker League alone is carrying on a fight, etc.,” tells the workers to support and vote for the Republicans !
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: The fruits of “reform”. (1927)

Editorial from the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who credit our present rulers with a special regard for the interests of the workers would do well to ponder upon the facts revealed at the recent inquiry into the fire at the St. Pancras film factory, when five workers’ lives were lost.

According to Mr. Macklin, Inspector of Factories, “The outbreak of fire could have been avoided by the use of some other method of drying” (“Daily Chronicle,” Oct. 11th); while Miss Ada Dunch, another inspector, stated that she addressed a letter to the firm regarding breaches of the regulations as long ago as January. She further stated that there were over 4,800 factories and workshops in her district and that her staff consisted of one half-time man, and some assistance given by another inspector.

Asked by a representative of the Home Office if she found it difficult to carry out the annual inspection, she replied that it was impossible. Her statement was corroborated by Mr. Macklin already quoted.

In his classic examination of capitalist industrialism, Marx long ago showed how numerous Acts of Parliament (ostensibly designed to regulate conditions in factories) remained dead letters owing to the failure of Parliament to vote the funds for the necessary inspectors. Seventy odd years later we find that his criticism still applies.

Liberal, Labour and Conservative Governments have succeeded one another in the task of administering the affairs of the capitalist class; with the result that working-men and women still go needlessly to their doom in order that their good, kind masters may enjoy lives of culture and benevolence on the profits realised from the workers’ toil.

The wage-slaves of to-day pile up wealth in hitherto unheard-of quantities; yet it is too much to expect that they should be enabled to do so in security. It is cheaper to let them be burnt or buried alive than to pay for the necessary supervision to prevent such events.

The tragic death of five factory hands is of course a paltry flea-bite which passes unnoticed by the average slave who enjoys, by way of amusement, pictures of the wholesale slaughter of the members of his class when glorified by such names as “Mons” and “Verdun.” The putrid sentiment which clogs the minds of working-class patriots prevents them seeing the shrieking absurdity of a social order under which millions can be poured forth daily for years in order to produce a blood-bath while the money cannot be found to save women in England from a holocaust.

Over a million men and women on the Labour Exchanges and a shortage of factory inspectors ! What have you to say, you Tory, Liberal and Labour reformers?

The blood of the workers calls out for an answer!

"Capitalism's Big 3." (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The cartoon is unsigned but there was a William Cameron cartoon that appeared in the December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Letter: What is Socialism? (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is a letter from a correspondent, and our reply :—

London, October 20th, 1927.

Dear Sir,

I attended the debate at the Battersea Town Hall on “Socialism.”

Rather unfortunately, neither party defined Socialism, so the debate was rather a failure. Perhaps you can help me. “Socialism means the entire absence of private property. The State is to own and control everything.”

Would my P.O. bank account be confiscated ? Would they take away my little shop ? Should I be compelled, with a Grey Ticket, B.2, 48392, to deal at only one shop and take the goods they offer ?

Can I own a £5 note? Bernard Shaw says no, that would make me a capitalist. I heard him say that, at a lecture in answer to a question. Could I buy a cricket bat, and call it my very own ? How should I get the money ?

Could I buy a joint of beef without money ?

I am quite in a fog. Please discuss this and get the next Socialist Standard—a good paper—to reply.
Yours truly,
A.B. Firmin.

Our Reply:
Mr. Firmin claims acquaintanceship with the Socialist Standard, but he surely does not read it very carefully. If he did, he would have observed that the debate in question centred round the question which of the two parties should the working class support, and further, that every issue of the “S.S.” contains the definition of Socialism. Socialism does not mean anything so negative and silly as “the entire absence of private property,” nor is “the State” to “own and control everything.” The latter is a distorted description of State Capitalism which may justly be attributed to one section of the Labour Party. It is not Socialism, and has never received the support of the Socialist Party as our “Object” states (see last page). Socialism is “a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community.”

Mr. Firmin will see here that ownership and control will be vested in the whole community, not in the “State,” that common ownership is concerned with means of production which, as our “Principles” go on to explain, refers to land, factories, railways, etc. We hasten to relieve our correspondent of the horrible fear that we propose the communal ownership and control of his toothbrush and collar-stud.

Far from abolishing “all private property/’ Socialism will place it in the power of all of the population to share in the varied kinds of wealth which society can produce—something which at present is denied in large measure to most of them.

As for Mr. Firmin’s “little shop,” we suggest that he probably wants it only as a means to an end, the end being the obtaining of food, clothing, shelter, recreation, amusements, etc. Socialist society will place these things at the disposal of Mr. Firmin as for the rest of the members of society. As it is to obtain these useful articles that we all at present endeavour to secure £5 notes, we shall most of us lose interest in the means, e.g., the £5 notes, when the end can be secured otherwise. (The exceptions will be those who have a taste for collecting useless oddities. Speaking for myself, Mr. Firmin may at that time have all my £5 notes, then as valueless as old Mark or Rouble paper money.)

We are not responsible for the reported vagaries of Mr. Bernard Shaw. Mr. Firmin would not need to BUY a cricket bat, but we assure him he could have one for his very own.

We ask our correspondent to remember that buying and selling, and the use of money as the basis of the economic activities of human society are relatively recent acquirements. They have served their useful purpose, and the means now exist (as a result of the development of Capitalism), for society to arrange the production and distribution of wealth without the intervention of money. We do not know what Mr. Firmin sells in his little shop, nor whether he is the father of young children, but supposing that a hypothetical Tommy Firmin occasionally asks for food and clothes, etc., it is most unlikely that Mr. Firmin would insist on the production of money from members of his family (if any) before he allows them to eat or dress at his expense.

We trust that our correspondent is no longer in a fog, but if he is, we shall be pleased to answer any further questions or criticisms.
Edgar Hardcastle

Blogger's Note:
The debate that Mr. Firmin attended was the one below.

Letter: Socialism v the I.L.P. (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is a letter from a member of the I.L.P. :—


To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,

I have been very interested in the discussions contained in the “S.S.” from time to time, especially between your Socialism and that of the I.L.P. I, however, fail to see any gulf between the objects of the S.P.G.B. and the I.L.P., and its kindred association. It, therefore, seems to me unfortunate that speakers of your party should be continually denouncing the representatives of working-class interests, and it would be better if they devoted their speeches entirely to making Socialists. I have before me the “S.S.” of September, 1926, in which you say (page 12) that “no fundamental change in the object and policy of the I.L.P., however, is dreamt of,” and later on “These champions of Nationalisation . . . would not solve the wages problem.” I will, and have only the time, to deal with these two points.

(1) Firstly, “no fundamental change” is necessary, as their object is, has been and always will be, to transfer the private ownership of land and means of production, etc., into social ownership. You are at liberty to criticise their tactics, but not their object. Advice from technical and economic experts must be taken in the transformation of society, and we must be assured that this advice is in the interest of the working-classes. These experts must be, then, of the working-class.

(2) Secondly, the I.L.P. fully recognises that the wages system has got to go, and here again, the method to be adopted must be one that will not injure the class whom they desire should benefit.

(3) It is obvious to you that the so-called “living-wage” proposals, in my opinion, are held out to the masses as so much bread and butter to them under the Capitalist system, and that by intensive propaganda, more support will be given to the party in order to conquer the political machine and to use it without inflicting too great a hardship on their supporters. For instance, if in one sweep, a Socialist party abolished interest, some of the people who would be hit the hardest are those who are trying to live on a starvation wage, plus a few shillings resulting from a small investment—say £200 5 per cent. stock. When it is a matter of principle, there must be no discrimination between one form and another.

(4) If you have any suggestion as to what a Socialist Party should do when it has been returned to power, and at the same time retain the confidence of its supporters, I should be glad to hear of it in your next issue alongside of this letter. Could you spare me the space, please?
Ruskin House,

Our Reply.
For convenience of reply we have numbered four paragraphs with which we propose to deal.

(1) It is news to us that the I.L.P. propose to abolish private ownership. It will also be news to the I.L.P. The abolition of private ownership would involve the abolition of all forms of living by owning property, i.e., rent, interest and profit. Asked as recently as August whether the I.L.P. proposed to abolish “rent, interest and profit,” Mr. E. E. Hunter, Secretary of the I.L.P. Information and Research Department, replied in an official letter, dated August 22nd :—
“Many Socialists are in favour of their complete abolition, while others have held the view that complete abolition is not desirable.” (Of course, when Mr. Hunter writes ” Socialists,” he means here “members of the I.L.P.”)
The “Socialist Programme” published by the I.L.P. (1923) is more definite. Under the heading “A Socialist Programme for Industry,” it says (page 24) :—
“The present shareholders in mines and railways could receive State mines or railway stock based on a valuation and bearing a fixed rate of interest.”
Mr. J. R. MacDonald, in his Socialism, Critical and Constructive” (page 274) says :
“When Labour uses capital and pays its market value, property is defensible . . .”
This may be the aim of “I.L.P’er,” but it is decidedly not Socialism.

(2) The I.L.P. will be equally surprised to learn that it. proposes to abolish the wages system. The constitution adopted at the 1922 Annual Conference states under “Political and Industrial Democracy,” that the “basis of industrial democracy must be the organisation of the wage and salary earners.” (See the “Story of the I.L.P., page 20.)

(3) “I.L.P’er” believes he knows why the I.L.P. advocates its “Living Wage Policy.” We do not know that, but we do know that Socialism is not going to be introduced by a political party which has been placed in power for some other purpose by electors who are not Socialist. If “I.L.P’er” will recall the administration of Capitalism by the Labour Party in 1924, or the experience of various Labour Governments (e.g., New South Wales in September of this year) he will perceive that when electors find themselves deceived by a political party which fails to carry out its promises, or which goes beyond its mandate, they express their disapproval by voting against it at the first opportunity. It is interesting also to recall that the Labour Party in office appealed to the miners not to embarrass it by asking for more wages, and threatened striking transport workers with the Emergency Powers Act. That seems to us to be a curious way of expressing the I.L.P.’s enthusiasm for a living wage. (As well over 50 per cent. of the Labour M.P.’s at that time were I.L.P. members, the I.L.P. is fully accountable for all of the anti-working class actions of MacDonald’s Ministry.

(4)”I.L.P’er” here overlooks the important point that Socialist Party candidates will only be elected to the House of Commons on a Socialist Programme (not on a programme of Capitalist reforms), by a Socialist electorate (not by electors who want a living wage, or family endowment, etc., etc.) and for the single purpose of establishing Socialism. The only way of retaining the confidence of a Socialist electorate will be to work for Socialism just as it is now true that the only way I.L.P. M.P.’s can retain the confidence of their non-Socialist electorates is to work for everything other than Socialism. If Socialist M.P.’s fail to do the work for which they are elected, the voters will get rid of them at the first opportunity.
Edgar Hardcastle

SPGB Meetings, Debates and Lectures. (1927)

 Party News from the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The Economic League's Major H. J. Gillespie D.S.O. was an ex-Fabian who'd recanted his longstanding Labourism and was now taking the Economic League's shilling. It happens. Ken Weller mentions in his excellent book, 'Don't Be A Soldier', that Frank Grainger left the SPGB in the late 1930s whilst he was the prospective parliamentary candidate for the SPGB in the East Ham North constituency, and later turned up as a lecturer for the Economic League. 

The December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard gives a brief report of some of the meetings listed above.

The Comrade Jacobs mentioned above who was lecturing at Bethnal Green Library on the subject of 'Political versus Industrial Action' was either longstanding SPGB outdoor speaker Alf Jacobs, or it was Dick Jacobs, the secretary of the Bethnal Green branch of the SPGB. Alf Jacobs joined the SPGB in its earliest days and was known in the East End of London as a popular SPGB outdoor speaker. (Especially at the outdoor speaking pitch in Victoria Park, where in 1914 he repeatedly took to the outdoor platform to denounce the war.) Dick Jacobs had only just joined the SPGB in January 1927 (he'd formerly been a member of the Labour Party), but was to remain a member of the SPGB until his death in 1977. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say the speaker was Alf Jacobs.

Voice From The Back: Free (?) Trade (2000)

The Voice From The Back Column from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Free (?) Trade 

The embattled head of the World Trade Organisation, Mike Moore, is pledging to use next week’s global trade talks in Seattle to open up the rich markets of the west to poor countries in an attempt to defuse the biggest demonstration in America since the Vietnam war. With the FBI fearful that the arrival of up to 150,000 protesters against the start of a new round of trade liberalisation talks may result in widespread disruption and violence, Mr Moore said in an interview with the Guardian that he was seeking to put right the “great injustices” of the world’s trading system . . . However, attempts by trade diplomats to produce an agreed text in advance have foundered and the WTO has come under attack from non-governmental organisations for being undemocratic, indifferent to the environment and dominated by multinational companies. Guardian, 25 November.

The death trade 

Britain last year continued to sell weapons to countries with poor human rights records despite the government’s pledge to bring an “ethical dimension” to foreign policy, the annual report on arms sales published yesterday shows. The government approved export licences for a wide range of military equipment to Indonesia, Turkey, China, Bahrain, and Algeria, as well as Saudi Arabia, Britain’s main arms customer. The report shows nearly £2bn worth of weapons were exported by Britain last year, including 38 armoured combat vehicles to Indonesia, 18 Tornado aircraft, 100 air-to-ground missiles to Saudi Arabia, and over 400 air-launched missiles to the United Arab Emirates. Guardian, 4 November.

Saving lives or profits 

The Boeing Corp. failed to disclose key findings from a 1980 report about fuel-tank problems in its jumbo jets that could have assisted federal safety investigators probing the crash off Long Island in 1996 . . . Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees airline-disaster probes, told the Post that Flight 800’s crash could have been prevented had Boeing disclosed the report earlier. In 1990, a fuel-tank explosion on a different model jet, a Philippines Airline 737, killed eight people. New York Post, 29 October.

Couldn’t care less 

Old people are dying after operations because of hospital staff shortages and poor training, according to an independent investigation. Delays and dangerous negligence lay at the heart of a “poor” standard of care for the elderly after surgery, the enquiry concluded. Times, 18 November.

Define “professional”, please 

Headhunters are “unprofessional, unethical, money-mad, short-term chancers who would shaft anyone for a quick buck”. It’s official. A headhunter says so. The recruitment industry has been shaken by an e-mail sent by one of its oldest members to staff at a number of rivals in an attempt to poach them. Yes, really. Is there no honour among thieves? Claiming to be “the truth about recruitment agencies”, the message included the above description and suggested that, since they are treated so badly, staff owe their employers no loyalty and might as well switch sides. It came from a director of Lorien, a quoted company specialising in IT staff, and found its way to Computer Weekly.

Free market madness 

Free coal, the traditional perk for retired miners, may soon be shipped from China. The pensioners are being urged by the government to take the cheaper, subsidised Oriental fuel to cut the cost to the taxpayer. Financial Mail on Sunday, 28 November.

Not ethnic conflict—plunder 

The war in the Congo perpetuates a conflict that affects nearly every country in Africa; Congo, located in the centre of the continent, has borders with nine other countries . . . It is, in reality, one giant war against all of Africa, as a detailed analysis of any one of these wars readily shows. The real belligerents were not even at the peace talk in Lusaka: the British Commonwealth and allied French interests who, operating with complicity channels in the United States, are seeking to destroy the nation states of Africa in a domino chain of wars, and to ensure the full domination of Africa’s vast resources for themselves. The People Newspaper, Uganda, 4-18 August.

How helpful! 

“REMAIN WEALTHY. Money is fickle. And self-centred. It couldn’t care less about you and the people who depend on you. Protecting your wealth is up to you. For over 80 years we’ve helped manage the assets of some of America’s wealthiest families. Growing and protecting their money. Giving them the financial security to enjoy life to the fullest. Over the years our customers have come to expect the unprecedented level of attention and service we provide. We can do the same for you and your family. For more information, call or stop by our office at 520 Madison Avenue, 33rd floor. And find out how you can keep your money yours. WILMINGTON TRUST.” Stagebill, October.

Editorial: A Millennium To Win! (2000)

Editorial from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well, at least the Millennium is over. All we have gained is the world’s third largest hangar (the Dome) and possibly the world’s largest hangover. But, looking through bleary eyes onto yet another morning of wage slavery, do we have anything to look forward to?

We do. Bear in mind that the “Millennium celebrations” are an attempt to dislocate our genuine hopes for the future onto a Dome and a date. Our excitement for the marvels of our technology and self-understanding, and the changes in life that they would permit, is transmuted into an expensive symbolisation of these wishes, and a hangover. But the fact that the “powers that be” felt the urgent need to provide the Dome, to pander to our aspirations even as they are denied in reality, is a clear and present demonstration that THOSE ASPIRATIONS ARE THERE. It might be worth going to see the Dome, just to see how scared the ruling class has become of our imaginations.

The new century sees a dichotomy in needs between the West and the Third World. Whereas, in world historical terms, the Third World is at about the point we were in 1900 at best, needing socialism as an end to hunger and material deprivation of all kinds, the Western working class now suffers from a more general malaise. The irony of starvation on the one hand, and obesity on the other, merely demonstrates that the root cause of all our problems lies not just in the deprivation of material goods, but the deprivation of human life in general. “I am nothing, and should be everything!” is Marx’s revolutionary slogan. The Left merely insisted that we were nothing, and should be fed.

So, where to from here? The answer is already emerging. The demise of the Left is allowing genuine revolutionary sentiment for the OVERTHROW OF CAPITALISM AS A SYSTEM to re-emerge: demonstrations over the last year, however imperfect, are signs of this. Our problem, if any, is that the world is overripe for change! But we need always to remember that when Marx referred to socialism as a NEW MODE of production, he meant a new mode of social life, not some equalisation of the capitalist work process. We have to realise that socialism is not utopia, but better than utopia, a different way of life revealed by the poverty of this one; invest our hearts and minds in this our real future; and fight for it single-mindedly. We have nothing to lose but our chains: we have a world to win.

An Open Letter to ‘Reclaim the Streets’ (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Friends,

There has been a radical shift, in radical politics, from single issue campaigns within capitalism to attacks on capitalism as a system. As one focus for this shift “Reclaim the Streets” is to be commended. However, whilst J18 attacked capitalism as a whole, using the City as a focus, there was a worrying trend during N30 to make Seattle and the WTO—”fair trade not free trade”—the focus, thus leaving capitalism as a whole unscathed.

There are no nice capitalists. Capitalists in the Third World are just as ruthless and just as exploitative as their First World brethren. The debate over globalisation is a ruling class debate over how they divide the spoils from their collective exploitation of us. A peasant gets peanuts for growing peanuts because that is the going rate for peanuts in the world economy. If the price of peanuts is raised, the local exploiter will gain at the expense of the First World importer, and the peasant still gets peanuts. Anyone still unsure of the rapacity of Third World rulers should take a quick look at Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, etc. As revolutionaries we should fight the collective war between us and the ruling class, not play the hostage game at their bargaining table.

We have nothing to say to our rulers on how to run capitalism, we should not be drawn into fighting their battles, and we should certainly not be drawn into rolling history back instead of forwards, as a global revolution must be made globally.

Thankfully the Left-wing is dying. Good riddance! It was always the campaign for “real” i.e. manufacturing capitalism against finance and landed interests, and its demise is only a sign of capitalism’s maturity, not its triumph. We must return to the working class agenda, subverted by the Left, of calling for the abolition of capitalism rather than its “fair” administration. In a world where we are the slaves of many masters rather than one, and are told that the choice of masters is our freedom, the only action of any meaning to us is the abolition of the wages system, and thus of work as we understand it. A world which we own, and create, has no place in it for ruining men and women’s minds and bodies with employment, enslavement, or any other constraint on their mutual enjoyment of their creations. But be warned—the Left is trying to subvert your movement! The SWP, in particular, has been seen trying to recruit young and eager minds with their state capitalist poison, even at regular RTS co-ordination meetings when you and others are not represented.

The use of violence is counterproductive, as many in RTS realise. The state is strongest in its use of force, and weakest in its legitimisation of that force. Virtually all of the state’s hired thugs and hired killers are working class, from working class homes, and only function within mass organisations of repression because the state explains their actions to them as being in society’s interests. Ten years ago, Eastern Europe learned how impotent these forces are against a working class which has destroyed state legitimacy by peaceful action. As a class we run society from top to bottom, and revolutionary action lies in effectively communicating that message to each other: once legitimacy falls, the state falls. This is precisely why these forces provoke violence, with snatch squads, baton charges and horses, so that we will respond with violence and justify their repression. You don’t need to keep it fluffy—sullen resentment will do fine.

As members of the World Socialist Movement, we are glad to see the emergence of organisations attacking capitalism as a system rather than merely its particular evils. In Britain, we in the Socialist Party have stood since 1904 for the abolition of capitalism, and the establishment of socialism, i.e. the abolition of money, private property and the state. For most of that time the working class agenda has been dominated by those who said that socialism was about running capitalism better, be it Russia, China, Cuba, Labour, Sweden, etc. Now that this presence is lifting we find that many thousands have arrived at the same conclusions as ourselves, but have organised along the lines of the anarchist tradition. Whilst its diversity has allowed revolutionary ideas to flourish (as well as several reactionary ones!) it has the opposite problem to the Left. They are monolithic, but anarchism is fragmented.

We can only hope that RTS develops beyond its teething troubles, by shedding particular campaigns for the improvement of capitalism, into a general and radical attack on capitalism itself. You already have that programme in ideal, via the Situationists who seem to inspire much of your propaganda. We ourselves have spent nearly a century struggling for an authentic socialist movement, and understand the difficulties. We have a history, theory and organisation designed precisely for that revolutionary project towards which RTS is hopefully heading. We would urge all those in RTS who back the project for abolishing capitalism to meet and discuss with our organisation. We both have things to learn.

Contact us. Our branches are listed on a link from our home page, or email our Head Office, again from our home page. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours for world socialism,
Simon Wigley

The ultra rich (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Careful readers of our August issue will have noticed that we gave two different figures for some statistics from the UN Development Report 1998. These were based on newspaper reports. To clarify the situation here is an extract from the original source:
“New estimates show that the world’s 225 richest people have combined wealth of over $1 trillion, equal to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the world’s people (2.5 billion) . . .

The three richest people have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the 48 least developed countries . . .

Another striking contrast is the wealth of the 225 richest people compared with what is needed to achieve universal access to basic social services for all. It is estimated that the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for all women, adequate food and safe water and sanitation for all is roughly $40 billion a year. This is less than 4% of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people in the world.”
These are the figures that should be quoted. But note that what is being compared is the wealth of the ultra-rich with the income of the poor, which might give rise to the impression that the solution is simply to transfer the wealth of the rich to the poor. In fact the solution is to make the wealth of the rich the common property of all.
Editorial Committee.

Letters: Selling Socialism? (2000)

Letters to the Editors from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Selling Socialism?

Dear Editors,

As a fellow socialist but also a practitioner in the evil discipline of marketing I have come to the conclusion that we are all missing something quite clear in terms of how we all seek to promote the aims of socialism.

We are entering a new millennium and the current tide of capitalism has to be—at least—challenged. The only way we’re going to do that is by beating it at its own game—and that does not mean distilling the message—it means working out how to communicate our message more effectively.

What we are offering is an attractive proposition for more people on this planet than any other ideal! I think that’s something to shout about!!

Marketing has been clever in cultivating capitalism, arguably its major tool. However we are now entering a darker phase where brand overtakes everything.

LET US have a global brand. Let us get our groups together and have a logo that reflects all the positives and ideals that socialism espouses. This is the only way we’ll ever challenge the NIKE, McDONALDS and COCA-COLA syndrome. We have to think brand but only after we’ve unified our message.

And how do we project our message more effectively? Through creative and sometimes illegal advertising—with images that break open the myth of capitalism, that allow people to consider their situation therein, that challenge the whiter than white brand identity. Let us tell people about the wage differential, the unethical practices, the exploitation that they are victim of. Let us get these images everywhere and see what kind of effect it has.

Don’t mistake me for seeing socialism as a product . . . oh no . . . it has infinitely more substance than a simple product and that is our strength and collective strength. Let us be taken seriously as a very workable solution—if not inevitable—to the greed, ethnic conflict and hate that fills this world.

We must break down the myths of what has been done in socialism’s name in the past and create a solid clear vision for the new millennium globally.

We must take heed of regionalised feelings—legalisation of cannabis etc.

As people with ideals we will all have an innate creativity in which we can tap into. We should take more notice of our ideas and realise that real creativity is not the preserve of top London agencies—where most copywriters will be/been socialists! We have the images, the icons that we can use to push ourselves and our message and be taken seriously.

Socialism has to evolve and move in a way that people can understand. Understanding has evolved and we’ve stayed still, it will only work if done globally and pushed globally. All the tools are there to do the job.

The Socialist Party has always stood for a global system, and we have a global brand name—The World Socialist Movement.

The principles of Socialism are not an ideal, but rather the only real solution to the viciousness of capitalism. This journal has been exposing (unfortunately, too often, mainly to Socialists) this viciousness ever since its first issue. The problem, as you realise, is how to reach a mass of people with the Socialist solution. But our resources are—at the moment—minuscule. We could never compete with the likes of Coca Cola or McDonald’s. Perhaps the Internet is an easier (and cheaper!) way to reach the world—Editors.

Hollywood debases Oz

Dear Editors,

The Observer for 3 October carried a brief review of a newly-reissued book containing three novels in the Wizard of Oz series by Frank Baum (The Wonderful World of Oz, published by Penguin). This sparked off an interesting exchange of mails on the World Socialist Discussion Forum (well worth joining if you have Internet access: you can subscribe via the World Socialist Movement website, or by sending an empty email to

I had never realised before reading the Observer review that the Oz books are political allegories, an aspect that is completely lost in the film starring Judy Garland. The film depicted the land of Oz as a dream world, whereas for Baum it was a real place, an alternative to the alienating, exploitative and economically-depressed United States of the beginning of the century.

For instance, consider the following passage, from The Emerald City of Oz:
“There were no poor people in the land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. Each person was given freely by his neighbours whatever he required for his use, which is as much as anyone may reasonably desire. Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do. There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced.”
Leaving aside the reference to the ruler, this is clearly a description of a Socialist community, based on production for use rather than exchange of commodities. No wonder Hollywood didn’t show this in the film!
Paul Bennett, 

World View: Sent to Siberia (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been called the Frozen Hell. There are no trees. Nothing but rock and tundra. In the winter, which lasts from mid-September until the beginning of May, when the snow begins to melt, the temperature goes as low as –75oC, with blizzards drifting the snow eight-storeys high. The spring and summer last a brief three months; and for two months, in mid-winter, the sun never rises above the horizon. Sixty five miles to the west, the estuary of the Yenisey-Angara river (3,445 miles long) flows, during the short spring and summer months, into the Kara Sea and then the Arctic Ocean. For nine months of the year, it can only be reached by air or by a nuclear-powered icebreaker from Murmansk, docking at the estuary port of Dudinka.

Such is the location of Norilsk, the world’s most northern industrial city, with a population of 200,000 inhabitants.

In 1930, there was nothing there, except a few reindeers and reindeer-hunters. Nevertheless, in that year, Stalin proposed the Angara-Yenisey Combine for central Siberia, similar to the Kuznetz Combine planned for western Siberia. Shortly after, nickel and other metal deposits were discovered. And in 1935¸ construction of what was to be the city of Norilsk and the Norilsk Metallurgical Combine began. The problem, however, was, as elsewhere in Siberia: where would the Soviet state find the hundreds of thousands of workers it needed in such an inhospitable place? Few would volunteer to go there.

The solution was the collectivisation of agriculture and the dispossession of the kulaks, and other peasants, in Ukraine and south-western Russia. Together with “Trotskyists” and other “enemies of the people”, they were rounded-up and shipped off to eastern Russia and Siberia the Soviet Union’s era of what Marx called the “primitive accumulation of capital” had begun.

Responsibility for the administration of the Norilsk Combine was the Glavnoye Upravlniye Lagerei, or Gulag, the Chief Directorate of Labour Camps, a department of the Narodny Kommissariat Gosudarvetvernoy Bezopasnosti, or NKVD, the People’s Commissariat of State Security. After the Second World War, when the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states, eastern Poland, hundreds of thousands of Balts, and thousands of Banderisti¸ Ukrainian Nationalists, were arrested and sent to such places as Vorkuta and Norilsk. Just how many prisoners passed through the Norilsk Combine is not known, as even the present Russian authorities in Krasnoyarsk, where the records are still kept, refuse to permit anyone to see them. Between 1935 and 1955, it has been unofficially estimated that 500,000 prisoners passed through Norilsk. Most died there, buried in unmarked graves or in holes in the ice.

Stalin died on 2 March 1953. Following his death, there was general unrest in many of the Soviet labour camps, including those in the Norilsk Combine. The strike began in zone 5 on 25 May. It soon spread throughout the camps and mines. Thousands of prisoners refused to work. The strike, which lasted about two months, was finally suppressed with many killed by the NKVD guards. After the strike, conditions for the prisoners were, for some time, considerably worse. But 1956 saw the beginning of the end of the vast Gulag system. The rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union required a more sophisticated workforce of “free” wage-slaves. Not that that made a lot of difference to the surviving ex-prisoners in Norilsk! Nevertheless, some returned to western Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

But for many, after ten or fifteen years imprisonment, and five years “administrative exile”, there was nowhere to go. Some of the women married former guards and NKVD (later KGB) officials. All became state employees, or were pensioned off. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ever-increasing inflation ate up their modest savings. Today, the Combine is no longer a state-run enterprise. No longer are the workers exploited by the state. It has been privatised; and according to James Meek (Observer Magazine, 4 July), “it was bought for fraction of its commercial value in 1995 by Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest industrialists, a man made very wealthy now by the old slavery and the new freedoms, and a business partner of George Soros”. Private capitalism had replaced state capitalism.

Yenseisk lies on the banks of the Yenisey river, 800 miles to the south of Norilsk. Trees grow here, and it is less cold. Indeed, global warming has been noticeable in Yenseisk. It has become milder, with the minimum winter temperature rising from –52oC to –40oC. Even vegetables can be grown under glass. Nevertheless, the ice only melts on the Yenisey in May, when boats from Dudinka arrive, or pass south to Krasnoyarsk. And over the last couple of years, a few thousand workers have managed to escape the frozen hell, and the smog and pollution, of Norilsk, downstream to Krasnoyarsk.

There is a road between Yenseisk and Krasnoyarsk, but no railway; and, furthermore, the local airline, which links such towns and cities as Norilsk, Yenseisk and Krasnoyarsk, is in deep trouble as it has lost most of its pilots. In fact, according to a local priest, Father Grigory, interviewed by the Guardian (3 December 1997), Yenseisk is “a dying town that lived in the past, by subsidies. There’s no industry. Now, it’s thrown back on its resources. The teachers and doctors haven’t been paid for months”.

Krasnoyarsk, a city of 900,000 inhabitants 200 miles south of Yenseisk, is the administrative centre of the area, and is situated on the Yenisey where it is crossed by the Trans-Siberian Railway. It has factories manufacturing equipment for Siberia’s mining industries, a timber combine and a food processing industry. But like Norilsk and Yenseisk, it too is depressed and probably in terminal decay.

One hundred miles to the west of Krasnoyarsk, also on the Trans-Siberian Railway, is the huge Achinsk Company, recently privatised, which produces alumna, most of which it sends to the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium (KrAZ) Company. It does not make a profit, yet it is the source of massive profits. It pays no taxes to the state. For it does not sell its produce direct to Krasnoyarsk aluminium, but through a series of intermediate companies, owned by the managers of Achinsk Company and KrAZ, all of which make “a killing”, and pay very little tax. Much of this money ultimately finds its way, in dollars, to the Bank of New York. Like Potanin, the owner of the Norilsk Combine, Georgi Lokk, the Chief Executive of the loss-making Achinsk ore combine, is a very rich man; from wealth created by the exploited, poverty-stricken workers of Siberia.
Peter E. Newell