Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Dignity of Labour, at Home and Abroad. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the chief complaints of the capitalist-class and its parasites is that the native at home and abroad does not fully appreciate the ”dignity of labour.” It is in vain that so mild and popular a reformer as John Ruskin has pointed out that to labour with the hands all day is degrading, for the capitalist maintains that labour is dignified—if it is performed by someone else.

Labour, manual labour, is good, wholesome, and above all, necessary; but whatever of dignity it may have possessed in the days of handicraft has been lost amidst the whirr of machinery. To labour hour after hour, day after day, year after year, at some mechanical work is wholly degrading, nor can any amount of education awaken the power of thought in minds dulled by the excess of purely mechanical labour.

That useful machine called the worker, whose engine, the mind, is stoked with the rubbish and lies of newspapers and politicians, can work only along the lines laid down for him by the master-class. That, at least, is the intention of the capitalist, and not until the worker realises that his interests are entirely antagonistic to those of his owner will he make any real progress. He will then cease to cry for “work” as the remedy for the evils of unemployment; he will not demand the expulsion of alien labour from England, nor will he work himself into a passion because Chinese labour is introduced into South Africa. He will rather find in all such troubles the natural results of the modern system of production for profit instead of for use.

The South African Labour question is a typical case. The possible employment of white men is not to be considered: the white worker is too apt to demand a fair wage and a vote; he does not realise the dignity of cheap labour; he forms trade unions and other unpleasant societies. The white labour market is already over-stocked and unemployment is rife in South African towns. The question is whether the Kaffir, Indian, or Chinaman is to appreciate the “dignity of labour” in the mines, and the “Bloemfontein Weekly Post” explains why alien labour is necessary. The attitude of the native is the cause of the trouble. To begin with, he is better off than his fellow in England. In our country the English native has no possessions, is divorced from, and not permitted to cultivate, the soil, and is forced, therefore, to sell himself in the labour market for the mere cost of subsistence. In “our” colony, however, the native is allowed to squat on the land, paying little or nothing to the farmer. He can cultivate the soil without becoming the farmer’s servant, and sometimes the farmer even enters into an alliance with the native and they work the land on the “half” system, which is unsparingly condemned by those in want of cheap labour, and who urge that the native should be nothing but a servant.

This custom among many of the farmers has made cheap labour scarce, and the “Bloemfontein Weekly Post” suggests the remedy for this “bad state of things.” It is found that the “dignity of labour” is lost on the native, for “he does not want work, and prefers revelling in the pleasures of sun and shade, and waxing fat on mealies and Kaffir beer.” When we remember how in England the master-class urges the workers to lead this simple, thrifty life, we may well be amused to find the same class falling foul of the native for that very reason, and it shows how little reliance is to be placed in the Christian ethics of capitalism.

So the native’s “life of ease” is a source of annoyance to his would-be employers, and the “Bloemfontein Weekly Post” suggests that the farmers in Orange River Colony—no longer a free state —should be forced to employ the natives as servants or else turn them off their farms, for “the native must work.” “There need be no forcing” says this paper, only he must he taxed so heavily that he is compelled to sell himself and live laborious days in order to exist. In fact, he must occupy the same position in his country as we English workers do in our country. Otherwise, it is suggested, “Indians should be imported on the same system of indenture as is adopted in Natal.” That is to say, if the native cares naught for the “dignity of labour,” he must be compelled to enslave himself or else alien labour must be imported.

It is absurd and useless for the English wage-slave to complain that his masters told him that the Boer War would open up a new market for his labour; it is, and always has been, evident that the capitalist is indifferent whether yellow, white, or black labour is used—cheapest is best. Socialists continually warn the wage-slave that when he fights he is not fighting for the benefit of himself, but of his master. If, instead of crying over spilt milk, he begins to study his own affairs from the point of view of his own class-interests, he will realise that every catch phrase, “dignity of labour,” “glory of England,” etc., is a species of bait to lure him on to his own destruction.

A real “dignity of labour” may be found if belabours for the “glory of England,” and of all other countries, in the ranks of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, for the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of that Socialist Republic which is the aim and ideal of the International working-class.
Sydney Chase

An die Sozialistische Arbeiterschaft. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Genossen !

Der Socialistischen Partei von Grossbritanien ist vom Sekretaer der britischen Sektion des Amsterdamer Kongresses eine Zuschrift zugegangen, worin unsere Partei unter anderem befragt wird, ob sie geneigt waere, an einer gerneinschaftlichen Beratung teilzunehmen, da beabsichtigt waere, ein Nationales Comité einzusetzen, welches sich mit der Erledigung von Kongress Angelegenheiten beschaeftigen soll. Wir haben uns gegen das Abhalten einer solchen Beratung ausgesprochen, und zwar hauptsaechlich aus dem Grunde, dass nach der Zusammensetzung der britischem Sektion des Amsteidamer Kongresses, auf welchem unsere Partei vertreten war, zu schliessen, das in Vorschlag gebrachte Comité zweifellos aus Personen bestehen wurde, welche in keinem Sinne des Wortes Sozialisten sind. In einen anderen Teile dieses Blattes veroeffentlichen wir die volle hierauf bezflgliche Correspondenz. Wir benutzen diese Gelegenheit, uns betreffs der wichtigen Eroerterungen, welche darin zum Ausdruck gebracht werden, an die Socialistische Arbeiterschaft zu wenden.

Ein sorgfaeltiger, verstaendnissvoller Beobachter der Verhandlungen frueherer Internationaler Kongresse muss die Ueberzeugung gewonnen haben, dass diese Kongresse besonders durch dass unentschiedene Wesen ihrer Organisation gekenntzeithnet waren und dass demzufolge nochjetzt viel Verwirrung hinsichtlich der wahren Absichten der auf diesen Kongressen gefassten Beschluesse besteht.

Man muss wohl gestehen, dass bei Internationalen Kongressen gewisse Gefahren und Schwierigkeiten unabwendbar sind, doch behaupten wir, dass die von uns erwaehnten bedauernswerten Resultate im grossen Masse dem Umstande zuzufuehren sind, dass an diesen Kongressen Koerperschaften und Personen teilnehmen, welche weder dass Wissen noch die Berechtigung besitzen, die Interessen des Proletariats zu vertreten.

Die Socialistische Partei von Grossbritanien wird in dieser Ueberzeugung durch hier wohl bekannte Tatsachen bestaerkt, Tatsachen, welche die Prinzipien vieler Teilnehmer am Amsterdamer Kongresse deutlich an den Tag legen. Unsere Delegirten auf diesem Kongresse sahen zu ihrem Leidwesen, dass Körperschaften wie die Independent Labour Party, das Labour Representation Committee, die Social-Democratic Federation und die Fabian Society als Sozialistische Vereinigungen Einlass zum Kongresse begehrten und fanden.

Und daher kam es, dass Beschuetzer des Kapitalismus, Verteidiger der Kindersklaverei, Freunde der Verstaendigungs-und Reformpolitik und Werkzeuge der Bourgeois Reaktion im Allgemeinen sich als Revolutionaere aufspielten, den Namen und das Ideal des Sozialismus schaendeten und die arbeitende Klasse in ihren Anschauungen betreffs der wichtigsten Fragen in elender Weise verwirrten.

Die Independent Labour Party und die Social-Democratic Federation lassen sich beide herbei, Vertretern der kapitalistischen Klasse Huelfe zu leisten; die Fuehrer der Independent Labour Party nehmen in ihrem offiziellen Organe entschieden gegen den Klassenkampf Stellung, waehrend die Social-Democratic Federation in ihrem Organe “Justice” sich deutlich dahin ausspricht, dass es Gelegenheiten gaebe, bei welchen das Bestehen des Klassenkampfes zum Vorteile des Emanzipation erstrebenden Proletariats vergessen werden duerfe. Die Fabian Society ist keine Vereinigung der arbeitenden Klasse und erstrebt in der Tat nur den Staats-Kapitalismus. Das Labour Representation Committee ist nichts anderes als der linke Fluegel der Liberalen Partei und weigert sich, Sozialistische Kandidaten anzuerkennen.

Die Sozialistische Partei von Grossbritanien weist daher die Aufforderung zurueck, an das Proletariat Verrat zu ueben und sich selbst zu entkraeftigen, dadurch dass sie sich an der in Vorschlag gebrachten Beratung beteiligt, weil sie durch solche Teilnahme den besagten Koerperschaften das Recht zugestehen wuerde sich mit der Durchfuehrung der Beschluesse des Kongresses, welcher die Interressen des Internationalen Proletariats vertritt, zu beschaeftigen.

In der Absicht dahin zu wirken, dass den kuenftigen Internationalen Kongressen eine entschieden Sozialistische Richtung und Basis gegeben wird und dass jeder wahren Sozialistischen Partei die gebuehrende verhaeltnissmaessige Vertretung auf solshen Kongressen gesichert wird, hat die Sozialistische Partei von Grossbritanien beschlossen, dem Internationalen Bureau und den Sozialistischen Parteien, welche sich demselben angeschlossen haben, eine Vorlage zu unterbreiten in der Erwartung dass fuer die Zukunft soweit als moeglich Massnahmen getroffen werden, welche die bestehende Verwirrung aus der Welt schaffen und der internationalen Arbeiterbewegung eine einheitliche und revolutionaere Richtung verleihen werden.
Der Sozialistischen Partei von Grossbritanien.
London, Januar, 1905.

SPGB Lectures. (1905)

Party News from the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The SPGB for most of its history has been skint, and it was especially skint in its early days, so it was a bit of a big deal to have indoor meetings. Indoor meetings cost money. Money that they did not have.

Voice From The Back: Sick report (1) (2000)

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

Sick report (1) 

When the Labour Party were swept to power in 1997, one of the issues that they stressed was how they would run the National Health Service much better than the Conservative Party. Alas, it was just another empty promise:
“The crisis in the National Health Service is forcing unprecedented numbers of patients to buy private treatment. In a massive vote of no confidence in the NHS, which Tony Blair’s government has insisted is not in serious trouble, the number of people paying for private operations has risen by about 40 percent since the 1997 elections” (Observer, 19 March).

Sick report (2) 

Another example of how well the NHS is doing under the caring Labour government has recently come to light:
“A woman suffering from hepatitis C has been denied potentially life-saving treatment by a health authority, even though she is believed to have contracted the virus during a NHS operation. Patricia Greed, who says that she was affected after a 1981 blood transfusion, has been told by Avon Health Authority that the drug Ribavirin is too expensive” (Times, 20 March).
Be rich like the Queen Mother and have more hip replacements than working-class knock-backs at the dole queue; be poor and watch your mother suffering from lack of medical attention. The whole thing makes us a little sick. How about you?

We can save them 

There are over 170,000 registered charities in Britain today. In the main they are trying to deal with the poverty that capitalism inevitably produces. The organisation Plan International UK is an example of this misguided compassion. For £12 a month you can sponsor a child in one of the underdeveloped countries. In a heart-rending appeal leaflet they state:
“in the developing world, innocent children are dying—together we can save them. Throughout Africa, Latin America and large areas of Asia it is a stark fact that thousands of children are dying from malnutrition and disease. For the survivors, life is unimaginably hard. From a very early age they have to work all day every day. Their water is dirty, their food is scarce and medicine unobtainable.”
It is true of course that “we can save them“, but not by propping up the buying-and-selling system with charity. It is a “stark fact” that the children are suffering because their parents cannot afford to buy the basic necessities of life. In socialism all food, clothing and shelter will be produced solely for use not profit; that is “how we can save them“.

The logic of capitalism 

In a report on International Water Day we read that the Second World Water Forum estimates that one billion people world-wide lack safe drinking water and three billion do not have adequate sanitation:
“Officials from 130 countries disappointed experts and activists by failing to declare the resource a human right at the end of the Second World Water Forum. They avoided concrete measures to ensure clean water for the world’s growing population, agreeing instead on a set of guidelines for governments. ‘If you say it’s a human right, you change the whole framework,’ said activist Maude Barlow. ‘Then you can’t trade it as a commodity and make a profit'” (The Herald, 23 March).
It’s not only socialists that can see through the madness that is capitalism where people have to pay for a basic human need like water, but unlike Barlow we don’t imagine that it could be otherwise under capitalism. If everyone is to have free access to clean water this will not be achieved by pleading with our rulers to make this a so-called right.

Writer’s cramp 

Living on a Job Seeker’s Allowance, a minimum wage of £3.60 or even, for argument’s sake, £30,000 per year, it is very difficult to imagine the enormity of the wealth enjoyed by the very rich. The American, Bill Bryson, in his book Notes from a Big Country, gives a mind-boggling illustration that gives you some idea of the wealth involved:
“If you initialled one dollar per second, you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After 12 days of non-stop effort you would acquire your first $1 million. Thus it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million and 1,200 days—something over three years—to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years, you would be a billionaire, and after almost a thousand years you would be as wealthy as Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft.”

Editorial: Who can buck the market? (2000)

Editorial from the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent turmoil surrounding the future of the Rover car plant at Longbridge and of Ford at Dagenham has once more brought into sharp focus the fundamental rule of economic life in the market system—no profit, no production.

Despite the concerted pleas of the government, the trade unions and even Ken Livingstone, Ford looks set to pull out of Dagenham causing over 2,000 jobs to be lost directly and more still indirectly. At Longbridge, BMW was no longer prepared to subsidise a loss-making plant by creaming off the profits from its more successful operations elsewhere and decided to cut and run. After a period of uncertainty when it looked like the entire plant would close, BMW now appears to have done a deal with the Phoenix consortium led by former Rover chief executive John Towers, a deal which the unions and the government hope will keep redundancies down to manageable levels.

But whether Rover ultimately survives at Longbridge will have little to do with any emotional attachment executives at Phoenix may have about Rover or whether workers at the plant work diligently in an attempt to ensure its survival. What will ultimately determine Rover’s future will be the ability of its new owners to sell Rover cars at a sufficient profit on the world market. Unfortunately for them, this is a market place where monetary demand for automobiles (the only sort of demand that counts) is already at near saturation point, with cutbacks in production and plant closures taking place not just in Britain but in the US, across Europe and in the Pacific Rim.

Margaret Thatcher was not right about many things in life but she rarely spoke truer words than when she said you can’t buck the market”. As workers in car plants all over the world discover the wisdom of this particular remark the hard way we would add only one caveat to it—”you can’t buck the market by working within the market system”. The only real way to buck the market is to chuck it altogether, and thereby create a future we could all look forward to without apprehension.

Danger: capitalism at work (2000)

Book Review from the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
The profit system’s in-built culture of risk-taking inevitably leads to danger for those who are the real wealth producers.
In his introduction to Blood in the Bank: Social and legal aspects of death at work by Gary Slapper (268pp Ashgate) American academic, anarchist-superstar Noam Chomsky execrates the unaccountable and deadly rule of corporations with powerful well-practised and passionate arguments. Chomsky’s preface contrasts with Slapper’s own text, which, with care, deliberateness and precision explores the complexities and the structures of the legal process of dealing with corporate manslaughter. The two styles, however, far from clashing, are complementary; as Slapper’s meticulous explication of the subject of death at work, and its relationship to the capitalist system, resolutely builds up to an impressive substantiation and justification for Chomsky’s resounding fusillade.

Slapper begins by going back to what a crime is and how criminal law came into being. This enables him to examine the practice of law as a whole, and to proceed on the basis that “it is reasonable to judge the system’s functioning: (i) by the extent it meets its aims . . . (ii) whether its policies have been formulated in accordance with its . . . accepted purposes”. He exposes the circularity of those stated aims and purposes, which summed up merely say “a crime is anything the state has chosen to criminalise” and then back it up with metaphysical flim-flam about social order and human nature. In place of this, Slapper deploys the materialist critique developed by Marx and Engels which sees law as “a code which generally sought to maintain the social and economic system” of its day.

Corporate culpability
Highlighting the divergence between ideals and reality is the way in which the law of manslaughter applies to death at work, and corporate culpability. In 1989 576 deaths were recorded as personal homicides, “the number of people killed at work during the same period was 517”, along with some 28,900 non-fatal injuries. Using Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports and his own research and analysis of coroner’s court hearings, Slapper estimates that around 70 percent of deaths at work could have been prevented by due management care.

The modern test for manslaughter is that of “objective culpability”. If the accused can be shown to have taken an unnecessary risk, or have been indifferent to risk, resulting in a death then they could be culpable of manslaughter. Since for this to apply it is necessary to consider how far “conduct must depart from accepted standards to be characterised as criminal [it must be] supremely a jury question”. This means that manslaughter is a highly complex and nebulous crime, depending on the cultural expectations of juries. However, Slapper proposes that we can discern “an essence of criminal culpability” which can be applied to show whether death at work is manslaughter. He proposes three tests which could be applied to deaths at work to determine corporate liability: if an employer creates a situation of deadly risk; where the risk is serious and obvious; and where they decide to run that risk either choosing to ignore it, or attempt to avoid it in a negligent and incompetent manner.

The problem, though, lies in applying criminal law, which has traditionally dealt with individuals, to corporate entities. Initially, employers were utterly immune from prosecution, because it was deemed that their employees had willingly volunteered to undergo the work for their employer. However, the evolution of a duty of care both towards employees and the wider society has meant an end to that line of defence. Prosecution is still hampered, though, by the need to identify a criminal “mind”, a person to be held to account. In cases of failures by entire companies, proving one individual director to be guilty within the terms of the “controlling officer test” can be immensely difficult, especially as police would not usually exhaustively search through company records after an “accident”. In 1996 the Law Commission recommended that a change ought to be made, making it possible to prosecute companies for management failure, but the requirement for a controlling officer is still current. Thus, most legal action resulting from death at work comes under the aegis of Health and Safety regulative legislation rather than the more serious criminal law.

The Health and Safety Executive, however, “has severely restricted resources”, reflecting the lack of political priority given to its existence. Further, the HSE’s own policies mute its effectiveness, as it prefers to promote “negotiated compliance” with safety law rather than work as an outright enforcement agency, casting itself as the good angel sitting on the shoulders of corporations, whispering words of conscience. Even then, such negotiation is ranked sixth in the league of the HSE’s own priorities, with enforcement coming seventh.

Culture of capitalism
Beyond simple policy matters is the cultural view of death at work as an “accident”, which is the automatic presupposition of investigating authorities, a presupposition that downgrades the severity of the occurrence. Both police and juries are likely to react lightly towards the respectable management, who do not fit with their pre-conceptions of criminals, and so are less inclined to use their powers of discretion to pursue those cases, unless-as in one gruesome case with a cutting machine that is cited-the details are so gross as to fit with the traditional horrific and violent concepts of murder. Slapper attributes the ultimate causation of this cultural influence to the social conditions of capitalism. The result of the practice over corporate killing is to avoid “too serious a deterrent to the risk-taking that is part of competitive industry”. Capitalists must remain flexible enough to take risks that may brings greater rewards in the interest of profit.

This competitive aspect of capitalism also nullifies any real prospect of solving the problem through the law. As Slapper notes, the Indian authorities failed to prosecute the directors of Union Carbide for the Bhopal disaster (see Socialist Standard, December 1999), yet did manage to prosecute an elephant for trampling someone to death. “Attempts to deal effectively with cavalier attitudes to safety within one jurisdiction can only have a limited effect because, . . . then the problem is exported by capital . . . Like water running down a hill, capital follows the path of least resistance”. Global competition between regulators undermines effective control over working conditions.

Capital views safety as simply another cost to business, as is illustrated via the Ford Pinto case of 1977, where the firm decided the cost of paying law suits was cheaper than actually correcting a fault in their product. That this calculation was repeated in 1997 by Chrysler, and again in 1999 by General Motors, shows how this sort of problem is endemic to the market system. The problems do not end there as there are those who argue “that the burden of fines is inappropriately borne by shareholders”. Despite the fact that it is exactly the constant baying of the shareholders for profit that is the root cause in the system, they are not, and never can be, in any way personally responsible under the law.

Slapper’s book has been picked up on by the usual rag-tag band of reformists. George Monbiot referred to the book in his Guardian column, in which he concluded by calling for a change in the law. Monbiot neglects to mention, though, Slapper’s conclusion that it is the profit system that must go, to be replaced by non-market socialism, and that this can be the only solution to the problem. Likewise, Channel Four News asked for a soundbite on an item about death at work. Again, they failed to explore his radical, and entirely deductive conclusion. Gary Slapper’s book is a rewarding and informative read, that deserves to be known as more than simply a useful source of horrifying stories and statistics to back up calls for milk and water reforms.
Pik Smeet

Blogger's Note:
Full disclosure: Gary Slapper was a member of the SPGB. He wrote for the Socialist Standard under the pen-name of 'Gary Jay'.

Letters: Internet hype? (2000)

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

Internet hype?

Dear Editors,

I’m not sure what Paddy Shannon has been trying to tell us in his articles on the internet and capitalism over the last four months (Socialist Standard, January to April). In January we learned that “the world is still largely unprepared for the scale of the communications revolution overtaking it”. In February we were invited to ponder whether the internet will destroy capitalism or rejuvenate it (the possibility that it will do neither was overlooked). In March we were warned that “the internet does not promise to give revolutionaries their socialist society on a plate”.

April saw the end of Paddy’s sustained hype for the internet (notice that I don’t capitalise it as if it were a god). He examined its possible effect on community. Much of what Paddy writes about the loss of community has the ring of reality: the strangers who live next door, our scattered and distant friends, the isolating and alienating TV.

Paddy recognises that “revolutions are made by people, not machines . . .[but] the revolutionary potential of the internet may be storing up its greatest surprise” (March). In April we had a clue to this surprise: “The real revolution of the internet isn’t online, it’s offline, in the world of the ‘homeworker’.” There are now about one million home or teleworkers, and it’s predicted that “52 percent of the working population will be homeworking by 2010”. Take that with a hefty pinch of salt. In the 1960s it was predicted that by 2000 most of us would be working 20-30 hours a week, with long holidays, sabbaticals and early retirement. We aren’t.

More importantly, what has the way we are employed got to do with working for socialism? Paddy seems to think it will be a good thing if “local people will once again be able to work together locally”. Apparently, half of us will “walk the five minutes to their local telecentre . . . sign on to their individual company” and this will be called “the communalisation of working”. It still sounds like capitalist employment to me. Global it may be, networking it may include, but I can’t see it’s any overall improvement on the non-telecentre, away-from-home employment that the other half of us face the prospect of continuing to have.

In a things-will-get-worse-before-they-get-better vein, Paddy foresees that “the internet may finally precipitate a wholesale flight out of [terminal retreat into virtual reality]”. In other words, our old friend increasing misery. The internet and associated new technology will prove so unsatisfying (calamitous?) that we’ll react against it and experience “a new flowering of community working and activity”. Forgive me for wanting to dodge the misery and go straight for the new flowering.

I’m glad that Socialist Party members are being recruited via the internet and I do believe we should use every available and effective technology to build the socialist movement. But let’s keep a sense of proportion. The work required to meet the needs of billions of the world’s population for food, shelter and health services is not just looking at screens, tapping keys and moving mice. Computers transmit information very fast but they embody all those aspects of our thinking that are automatic, deterministic, algorithmic. Against the people Paddy quotes, I’d like to endorse what S.L. Talbott says about education in The Future Does Not Compute:
“The teachers we remember for changing our lives did not convey some decisive fact. Rather, we saw in them a stance we could emulate, a way of knowing and being we could desire for ourselves . . . This is why computers have so little to offer either teacher or student. If the student’s greatest hope is to learn from his teacher what it can mean to be a human being facing a particular aspect of life, then the implications of wholesale reliance upon computer-mediated instruction are very grave indeed.”
Stan Parker, 
London NW3

Paddy Shannon replies: 
What the articles set out to do was not “hype” the internet, nor suggest it would do our work for us, but to discuss even-handedly a new significant development in capitalism which socialists ought to know about. We don’t think it’s a god, (current word-processing software doesn’t agree, since it tries to capitalise it for you!) nor is it the nemesis or salvation of capitalism. It’s what we make of it. It is not suggested that homeworking is somehow a liberating development. It’s still capitalist employment, of course. But the way we are employed has, we think, got a lot to do with working for socialism—just ask any overworked socialist who doesn’t have time to do Party work because of pressures of employment and commuting. To say that we would derive no benefit from being able to work locally is to respond to perceived hype with anti-hype, an equally indefensible extreme.

The “wholesale flight out of virtual reality” quote seems to have caused confusion. This was intended to counter those pundits who see computer-based virtual communities as somehow a step forward. There is no disagreement with Stan here. Indeed, the article argues that present Western society is already largely virtual (a bad thing) and that teleworking will encourage more physical community (a good thing) and thus precipitate a change from an alienated social environment into a more human and humane environment. Not increasing misery, then, rather the opposite.

The idea that the work of running the world can be reduced to “looking at screens, tapping keys and moving mice” is a caricature. For one thing, mobile phone technology is swiftly disposing of the old desktop geek image of the internet. The future of the computer is not in the foreground, giving us all eyestrain and sleepless nights, but in the background, in your clothes, your house and even your wallpaper, just as presently you are surrounded by microchips you know nothing about. There is no reason at all why a hi-tech socialist society couldn’t look for all the world like the quaint medieval society William Morris described in News From Nowhere, if that’s what humans really wanted. Technology tends to be at its most intrusive only when it is new. Stan presumably isn’t bothered by the presence of telephones, TVs, stereo hi-fi’s, fridges and a host of other useful tools we rely on but otherwise ignore as incidental accessories.

Finally, on the socialising and humanising role of teachers. We should no more expect this sort of thing from a computer as we should expect to ask a washing machine for advice on fashion. It would be a big mistake if humans ever proposed to replace human interaction with computer interfaces, but it seems highly unlikely that humans need to be told this, given their social and gregarious characteristics. The fear that computers will somehow dehumanise society has as little basis in fact as the once common view that the phonograph would lead to the destruction of social communication.

An ex-hippie confesses

Dear Editors,

What are we going to do about drugs? Illegal ones, that is. To legalise or not to legalise? Big stick or kid gloves? The hang-’em-and-flog-’em brigade, having learned nothing from all the years of experience and statistics, insist on heavier penalties for drug-takers and pushers, despite the known fact that, in the face of all punitive measures taken in recent decades, the overall incidence of drug-taking has gone on increasing in the UK and USA at a rapid rate.

Speaking from my own experience as someone who, way back in the Swingin’ Sixties, was once a very stubborn, determined pot-smoker and LSD “tripper”, I am convinced of several things: (a) so-called “soft” drugs such as cannabis and Ecstasy do not lead on to narcotics in the vast majority of cases; (b) no amount of harsh treatment by police, and stiffer sentencing by courts, actually stops or prevents people using drugs; and (c) drugs of all kinds have been used all over the world since time immemorial, and it was never seen as a social problem until relatively recently.

In reality, it is not the drugs themselves which are the real social problem, but the hysterical neurotic, knee-jerk reaction to them in the conditioned mind-set of society.

During my years as a “hippie”, travelling around from one commune or squat to another, I lived among many hundreds of dope-smokers, pill-heads, speed-freaks and heroin addicts: they were, on the whole, quite harmless and touchingly naïve. They did no harm, posed no threat to other people (aside from petty thieving and shoplifting that is).

We would do well to look carefully at the legal drug-peddlers in society—the pharmaceuticals companies and chemists in every High Street. What about them? Aside from the tiny minority of narcotics addicts in Britain, there are several million perfectly legal junkies: “respectable” housewives who walk around stoned on tranquillisers like Valium (now known to be highly addictive and fatal in many cases). Plus the hordes of businessmen and professional people who use both sleeping pills (i.e. barbiturates) and stimulants in their daily routine. But they aren’t criminals, are they?

So what’s the difference between one junkie and another? One gets his “fix” on prescription, the other doesn’t.

As for the legalisation of cannabis, I can vouch for the fact that this substance is not at all addictive or harmful: its worst effects are to make you lazy and unable to concentrate your thoughts for a while. LSD and Ecstasy are another matter: both are very harmful indeed and can result in death. But then, so can alcohol and cigarettes.

In a socialist society, the drug problem will not exist. Its cause will have been eradicated—the chronic alienation, isolation and loneliness created by capitalist conditions of life, plus social deprivation, poverty and dissatisfaction among the young. Once these factors are removed, the symptoms they produce will disappear along with them.

This is the real answer to the hangers-and-floggers, and to the wet liberal reformists as well: a sane and healthy social environment will produce sane and healthy individuals.
David Finlay, 

Shoplifting may be a victimless crime, but “petty thieving” by drug addicts isn’t—it’s one of the additional problems workers have to face under capitalism-Editors.

Reformist NGOs

Dear Editors,

I am currently a student at the University of Southampton studying for a BA in politics and philosophy. I have subscribed to the Socialist Standard for a couple of years now so I am familiar with the distinctions you make from other “socialist” parties. My reason for writing is that I am faced with a question on the effectiveness of NGOs on international organisations such as the World Bank and the WTO. The question asks whether NGOs are transforming or reforming international organisations as regards environment/sustainable development values. My essay will argue that NGOs can neither transform or reform because of the nature of capitalism be it global or otherwise. I would be very interested to hear what you have to say on the matter as I could use your examples to illustrate my argument. I have read Marx for the philosophy side of my course, and from this have come to the conclusion that unless capitalism is abolished any kind of civil action will, unless geared towards ending the system, only at best delay the destruction of the Earth.
Daniel Lawrence (by email)

It sounds as if you’ve worked out things for yourself and don’t need our help-Editors.

World View: Sierra Leone (2000)

From the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
(We publish below an email we received on 9 May from a political party in Sierra Leone (the SPSL—Socialist Party of Sierra Leone—with which we have some contact) and which provides some first-hand information on what has been happening there.)
I am afraid we have lost a comrade, Abu Koroma. He died early this morning as a result of multiple wounds sustained during a peace demonstration we had yesterday with all other political parties and civic organizations. Two other members, comrades Nim Dixon and Opah Thomas are still recovering. Dixons case is a bit serious and all is being done to save their lives. British forces are here and I saw them around the beach taking position today. They are only providing security for the diplomatic and wealthy areas, we the poors are left to the mercy of the rebels. There is still lots of shooting going on in the city and no one seems able to stop it. We have locked the office and we have removed all our little belongings for safe-keeping around the beach, to be exact at Cape Sierra hotel.
Hope to keep in touch if there is power and if I can get to a computer.

Army shoots schoolkids in Gambia
(A correspondent in West Africa writes about an incident in Gambia in April during which at least 16 school students were shot down by the security forces and which went virtually unreported in the press.)
Perhaps, for a country considered to be the Lilliputian of sub-Sahara Africa, Gambia was the most unlikely place for such mayhem to have occurred. Commentators had concluded that, with the military coup in Ivory coast, the last haven of Africa had lost its decorum. In the words of Achebe, the Nigerian writer, things had fallen apart and the centre could no longer hold.

Gambia, the lowest spot in West Africa, almost below sea level, had until now seen itself as the haven of peace in Africa. For decades it has used as its national slogan “Gambia No Problem”, meaning the land and its people were at peace with one another.

In Gambia today questions are piling up as to why the darling of peace let go its steam almost without notice. On the morning of 10 April students called attention to the years or decades of wrongs handed out to them by the capitalist system. Two pivotal events highlighted their case: the rape of a female student by a paramilitary officer during the inter-school athletics meet at the National Stadium and the broad-day killing of a schoolboy by six fire service officers.

In the opinion of the students, there was something seriously faulty with a system that allows a security officer to openly rape a student and proudly walk away dusting his uniform. But then, they said, a system is morally moronic that allows a teacher to go beyond the confines of his school in reporting a male student to the fire service and not to the school principal.

Six fire service officers then took it upon themselves to punish the boy by first physically assaulting him, then they made him carry bags of cement for long periods. As a result of the brutal punishment the boy was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The students demanded justice, and then came the pathologist’s long-awaited report, “the boy died from natural causes”. For the aggrieved students that was not only a miscarriage of justice, it was equally a denial of justice. The writing was on the wall; everyone saw it except the capitalist masters who thought a show of strength would be sufficient to calm the protesting students.

The authorities got their calculations woefully wrong. By 8 am the students had stamped their willingness to protest and their loss of confidence in a system that reduced them to anything but human. The Head of State was in Cuba attending the Group of 77’s summit hosted by Fidel Castro. The protest started peacefully with students chanting their displeasure, carrying placards and banners.

The security operatives went into full gear by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Instead of dispersing the students, this hardened their resolve to defend and die for what they believed in. The security forces were rudely awakened from their nest of slumber. More troops were brought to beef up their strength, they used live ammunition to shoot students, they beat them and molested female students. But amidst the armament employed against them the students stood their ground.

They went on the rampage, burned down four police stations; they caused physical harm to public and private properties including transportation, telephone outlets, stores and shops. What actually baffled the custodians of the capitalist system was how unarmed students were able to withstand the firepower of the security forces and still wreak such destruction–unique in the country’s history–to property.

The message was clear, from Beijing, Berlin, to Seattle, to Banjul, the days of the totalitarian era are over. Man cannot rule man against his will. The breeze of change was blowing across the face of Gambia and it was high time its capitalist leaders took note.

Unfortunately, and as expected, afterwards came the time for the capitalist leaders to apportion blame. The opposition came in for a blasting, they had “instigated and motivated” the students to demonstrate in an effort to bring the government down. But did the students have to demonstrate, did 16 of their colleagues–according to a government estimate–have to die with dozens wounded in all shape and form? Was it politically motivated or were the students only trying to vent their frustration with a rotten system?

To better understand the dynamics of everyone collaborating in the death of those students, it needs to be appreciated that, irrespective of where it occurs, the lords of capitalism are never at ease with themselves when the working masses venture or attempt to take their destiny into their own hands. Every and all effort will be exhausted to muzzle and nip it in the bud.

The problem was a Gambian one, but has a universal appeal. Masters are uneasy when servants are awake.
Daniel Wah

World View: Crisis in Zimbabwe (2000)

From the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Independence anniversaries in post-colonial countries used to be a time of celebration for those workers who believed they were commemorating their freedom. Zimbabwe’s 20th anniversary of independence fell on April 18th. For the great majority in this southern African country, caution, not cheer was the order of the day.

As well as widespread political unrest, the newspapers that day reported the reality of everyday life for Zimbabwe’s exploited majority, hardly mentioning the 15 year liberation war: a war in the Congo that President Mugabe has committed Zimbabwean troops to at a cost of $1 million per day, fuel shortages, an Aids epidemic, rampant inflation, rising interest rates and soaring unemployment.

Neither was Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF government in a celebratory mood, having a month earlier suffered defeat in a constitutional referendum intended to enhance the powers of the state, and a defeat that hinted he would lose his power to the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change in the coming elections.

Ever the opportunist and desperate to win the rural vote – some 65 per cent of the population – Mugabe set about orchestrating mass occupations of white-owned farms. For 20 years, Mugabe had all but reneged on his promise of land and jobs for the veterans who fought the liberation struggle— only 70,000 families ever having been resettled. Now his government was paying the veterans to occupy white-owned farms, evict the farmers and to attack demonstrations by the nascent MDC.

Not only was he urging the veterans to occupy the land of the white farmers of the profit-hungry Commercial Farmers Union – a capitalist outfit he had always sucked up to – but also keeping from these same landless veterans the story of a land scam involving his government and many of its hangers on.

In the last few years, under Zimbabwe’s land resettlement programme, the majority of state owned commercial farms have been given to individuals connected to the Mugabe regime. Most of these absentee land-lords have no agricultural experience and have been given 98 year leases at knock-down prices. These leaseholders include cabinet ministers, provincial governors, civil servants and members of Mugabe’s office.

Whilst one provincial governor pays £1000 per year for 2,800 acres of land, a defence secretary can be found renting 780 acres for £1.00. All in all, the 500,000 acres of these commercial farms have been divided up into 253 separate units for those loyal to Mugabe, and all land that was initially set aside as part of the governments plan to resettle 150,000 families by 2003.

Similar stories of corruption and cronyism have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe since 1980 and provide plenty of ammunition for Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change that is widely expected to take over from Mugabe in elections planned for late June.

Ostensibly an organisation with a pro-working class agenda, emerging from the popularity afforded the Zimbabwean Confederation of Trade Unions during their struggles of the late 90s, the MDC is in fact just another party that will be charged with running the country in the interests of its capitalist elite.

Claiming to be able to restore “investor confidence”, Tsvangirai clearly nails his colours to the capitalist mast. Although the MDC manifesto (which can be viewed at http://www.mdc.co.zw) is perhaps well intentioned and far surpasses anything Mugabe and Co could dream up, a lengthy section stating its economic agenda nevertheless is fused with the jargon the master class drool over and use to great effect at election times: “stronger currency”, “poverty alleviation programmes”, “progressive taxation systems”, “the MDC will interact with international financial institutions”. If this is not the MDC clearly advocating reformist policies then why does Tsvangirai take on board Eddie Cross, a lead player with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry, as an economic adviser?

Without a doubt the elections that will be fought out in Zimbabwe on June 24 and 25 will, as in elections the world over, be little more than a contest between various parties each believing they can run the capitalist system more profitably than the others. Nothing in the MDC manifesto suggests they, rather than ZANU-PF, can alleviate poverty or address the myriad social ills that capitalism gives rise to.

Perhaps Tsvangirai said it all when he described the MDF as “social democrats… though driven by working class interests… who can never be ideologically pure.”

There is hope, though, for the Zimbabwean working class. Whilst we foresee no significant and immediate change in their circumstances, socialism will one day be on the agenda in Zimbabwe. The WSM already has a number of members and supporters there in recent years.

Hopefully in the near future, the voters of Zimbabwe will have a real choice at election time—the chance to vote for a system this journal has been arguing for 95 years
John Bissett

One in the eye for Sky? (2000)

TV Review from the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last couple of years have seen complaints that the “dumbing-down” of the BBC’s output has reached such depths that it barely produces any factual programmes any more worth watching. In particular, Panorama has come in for some sustained criticism for the apparent loss of its cutting edge.

There is probably some substance to this charge and the programme is certainly not the essential viewing it was for long periods in the 1980s. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see that the edition of 16 May bucked the prevailing trend with a sharp and insightful report on the current state of the British football industry.

The theme of this edition was the increasingly incestuous relationship now existing between the major broadcasters of televised sport in Britain and the top Premier League football clubs. In particular, Panorama focused on the bidding process currently underway for football television rights for the next three years. With the BBC and TV now just bit-part players, the main movers and shakers are the ubiquitous Sky corporation, cable company NTL and digital television broadcasters OnDigital. Each of these corporations (or their constituent parts) have been attempting to buy large stakes in the very Premier League clubs deciding who will get the franchises.

Of course, the TV corporations have denied that there has been any ulterior motive in them buying up shares in clubs like Manchester United, Leeds and Chelsea. What the Panorama team were able to unearth was the former Sky chairman enunciating exactly what Sky’s interest in football clubs is, and – even better – a memo from NTL boldly stating that their own interest in buying shares in Premier League clubs is based on securing influence for when the commercial rights are handed out.

Socialist standards 
That major media corporations should seek to operate in such a way is no surprise to socialists of course. What was interesting, however, was the way in which Panorama pursued the theme that football is now a fully fledged industry’ and is subject to all the shenanigans and sharp practices that are commonplace in the rest of the business world, including the attempt by the big clubs to secure an oligopolistic control over soccer in the UK, systematicalIy starving the smaller clubs of cash and influence and, in some cases, becoming a law unto themselves in the pursuit of wealth, power and status.

Thankfully, Panorama decided that it would not spare the mealy-mouthed government ministers in all this. They chose well when they decided to interview Culture Secretary Chris Smith, putting to him the evidence they had collected about the way soccer in Britain is now run. His answers were a master-class in how to appear sympathetic about a problem while at the same time having no intention whatsoever to actually do anything about it. Smith was very “concerned” and “worried” about what was going on but said that he had no real powers to act so long as the companies kept within the minimum regulations laid down by what used to be called the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

This is, of course, true enough, but what he didn’t mention was that there is no serious possibility that the government is going to take on a major media multinational with unparalleled influence such as the one owned by Rupert Murdoch. Furthermore, the government is hardly likely to go out of its way to undermine the Premier League chairmen and chief executives, men (and they are nearly all men) who they’ve been working hand-in-glove with ever since they’ve been elected. These are the people who have presided over a situation whereby the correlation between wealth and league position is closer than it has ever been, while ticket prices for the ordinary fans have rocketed through the roof and the game has become the tacky, commercialised free-for-all it always threatened to be.

Sadly, the Panorama team stopped short of linking the Labour government’s attitude to the business of football to its wider view of the economy and society as a whole. If it had, it would have been able to make the point that an industry where the few receive copious wealth at the expense of the majority, where riches attract even more riches on a systematic basis and where the powerful can make up many of the rules as they go along is entirely in keeping with the business ethics of capitalism, the ethics which are very much the Labour Party’s own.
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: The Welfare State (2000)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

All the major political parties applaud the Welfare State. They vied with each other, during the election campaign, to claim credit for bringing it into existence. The Conservatives made the most of the fact that the government which set up the commission to inquire into the problem of reorganising the social services was a coalition Government predominantly Tory. The Liberals claimed their share of the glory because Sir William Beveridge, who gave his name to the report, was chairman of the Commission, and a Liberal. To the Labour Government was left the triumph of passing the legislation.

The truth about it all was that the so-called “Welfare State” arose not through the good will of any political party but because of the need to adapt the social services to the changing conditions of capitalism. The need to allay any possible working class discontent after the war. Of course, it was a benefit to the health of the working class. That was another reason. To take advantage of post-war conditions and capture as many foreign markets as possible it was necessary to increase production. To do this a healthy efficient working class was needed (. . .)

The socialist view is that the Welfare State won’t abolish the poverty problem which confronts the working class but is just the best method the capitalist class have devised to distribute wages from the point of view of efficiency.

(From an article by J.T., Socialist Standard, June 1950)

Greasy Pole: Some Thoughts of Chairman Clive (2000)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tony Blair cannot be a happy daddy, as he contemplates the public opinion polls and the local election results, which tell a grim story for the Labour government. Whatever gloss may be put on the figures, the reality is that nearly 600 local council seats were lost, that the Labour candidate in the Romsey by-election lost his deposit as he was pushed into third place and Frank Dobson was not just beaten but humiliated in the election for Mayor of London. The awful possibility begins to dawn, especially on Labour MPs who cling to marginal—and some not so marginal—seats, that their huge 1997 majority may be about to melt away, to let us in for another spell of Conservative government. And, just as it was with Margaret Thatcher, the question is beginning to be asked—is Tony Blair still an electoral asset or a liability who should be disposed of as soon as possible?

This is time for the spin doctors of Millbank (or “prats” as Frank Dobson unhappily but accurately described them) to come up with some reassuring message to inspire the party activists and persuade the voters not to defect to the other side. This was not easy for them; there is some evidence that many people are angry and bewildered to find that a government they elected in order to be radically, refreshingly different from the Tories has turned out to be almost exactly the same. There is evidence that votes were cast at the local elections in order to punish the government for failing to live up to the promises the Labour Party so confidently made in their 1997 manifesto.

The elections, they said, “. . . show that William Hague is dead in the water. The Romsey by-election was “a disastrous result for Hague . . .” “The Tories have made no progress in London since the general election…have made no comeback from the disastrous result they got in the 1997 election”. It is fair to ask how this garbage was received by those hundreds of defeated candidates. One of them, Gurcharan Singh, had every reason to expect, on the basis of the 1997 election result, that he would be safely elected as the Greater London Assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon. When the result was announced he was, according to the local press, “visibly upset” to have been beaten by the Tory. There must be quite a few Labour MPs who, whatever they are told by their party headquarters, are desperately hoping that they too will not be “visibly upset” when the votes are counted at the next election.

When Gurcharan Singh had recovered enough from being upset to make the customary speech of thanks and congratulation he offered his own ideas about the reasons for the failure to capture this apparently safe seat. “When they (the Tories) play the race card on people’s emotions,” he said, “This is what happens”. This was a reference to the Tory scare tactic about the local Labour council being supposedly soft on asylum seekers, whose presence is said to be partly to blame for a rise in the council tax.

This propaganda was designed by the Tories as a way of exploiting the fact that most workers are under the false impression that their interests are affected by the level of taxes. Gurcharan Singh may have had cause to complain about being upstaged on the issue but even so his comment was, to say the least, audacious when we remember the blatant opportunism of this government, spear-headed by Home Secretary Jack Straw, in nurturing and milking popular prejudices about asylum seekers in the sacred cause of appeasing voters. A casual listener may have gained the impression from Gurcharan Singh’s sour comments that Labour is a party of principle, which defiantly stands up for the policy of welcoming people who have fled from a repressive regime abroad. They would have been misled.

The attitude of the Labour Party towards political principles was recently illustrated by none other than Clive Soley, who is MP for Ealing Acton and Shepherds Bush and Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Soley had been steadily climbing the greasy pole when Labour were in opposition, shadowing Housing, Local Government, Home Affairs and Northern Ireland. Whatever ambitions he may have had then about getting to the higher reaches of power have been disappointed so he has to be content with being in the chair for the MPs. In an earlier life he was a probation officer, accustomed to making all the predictable noises about crime being rooted in poverty and the futility of simply punishing criminals rather than trying to deal with what drove them to offending.

If someone had asked him then—as they are bound to have done—about Labour’s policy on old age pensioners he would probably have held forth with the accepted Labour Party line about looking after those who have put in a lifetime’s useful work, making sure they share in the nation’s rising prosperity and so on. In his Newsletter on his website, Soley trills ecstatically that in Labour’s first two years in power they have established a “New pensioners’ minimum income: guaranteeing £78 a week for single pensioners and £121 for pensioner couples”. Praising the 1999 Budget, he assures us that “Other benefits on tax will mean that pensioners with a small income over the basic pension will now gain and that was the group who needed it most”.

Unhappily for Soley, pensioners in the mass do not seem to share his euphoric view of the situation. For some unsustainable reason they usually expect a Labour government to do well by them. In reality they are another of those groups who have had to learn that Labour’s promises were no more than—well, promises. They are outraged at the 75p. increase in the basic pension and some of them are rather imaginative with advice about what the Chancellor can do with the money. Labour Party members and supporters have been uneasy at what they have seen as the betrayal of an important part of the working class.

However Soley has not been impressed. He has put his own analysis on the situation by informing us that pensioners’ protests should not concern a modern, dynamic (and vote-hungry) political party because old people are little more than a bunch of Tory racists. He did not say whether being such a sad case was unavoidable for old people, like going grey and not being able to run for buses any more. Nor did he share with us, which piece of research was responsible for his remarkable conclusion. Perhaps his reticence was something to do with the fact that he is not exactly in the first flush of youth himself, having only four years before he gets his bus pass and moves into the ranks of Senior Citizens for Conservative Xenophobia.

Another way of putting what Soley was saying is that a capitalist political party should concern itself with only those policies which bring in the votes. There is no need to try to appeal to anyone who is unable or unlikely to vote for them. That is the principle on which all governments—and, especially blatantly, this one—operate. It is the driving force behind the presentation of Gordon Brown’s budgets, behind Jack Straw’s posturing as a hard line guardian of law and order, behind the cynical stimulation of racism over the asylum seekers.

Why Unemployment Abounds in the U.S.A. (1928)

From the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

How long is it since the Press and politicians, Labour leaders and economists, were all pointing to America as the land of work and prosperity? Special Commissioners spent a whole week in that vast country and filled newspapers with articles on the “Secrets of High Wages.”

Now, however, the papers are “trying” to discover the Secret of No Wages in America for millions of willing workers. The representative of the American Federation of Labour told the American House of Commons that 4 millions were out of work. The correspondent of the Conservative Daily Telegraph (February 9th) reports as follows :—
“No official statistics regarding the number of unemployed in the United States are available, but the figure is roughly estimated at between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000, some estimates placing the total at between 9 and 10 per cent. of the total number of workers.”
Most of the newspapers have called attention to the reopening of “bread lines” and the rapid increase of begging on the streets of “God’s country.”

We are told that conditions are rapidly approaching the situation of 1920-1921 when over 6 millions were out of work.

The myth of high wages and large savings is quickly being exposed by the widespread appeals of charities and welfare centres for help, and the fears that the “property” bought on instalments by workers will not be paid for. Such property, usually bought on instalments of one dollar down and the rest later on, includes clothes, furniture, books, gramophones, and, in fact, all the “vast” and peculiar property of the workers. The motors and houses that loom large in reports of American labour prosperity are now exposed as the property of the capitalists used by the workers as long as they can pay instalments.

Unemployment is obviously a world evil and not a national one. It is not merely European, but International. It exists in the so-called prosperous countries like America as well as “backward” countries like Russia. The calm assumption that America had disproved Karl Marx’s ideas is again exposed by the large extent of poverty and unemployment in the much-vaunted richest country.

America prided herself on being beyond the dangers affecting countries depending on a foreign market. The United States claimed that only ten per cent. of her wealth was exported—the rest being for the great “home market.” But what is the home market? It is composed of workers and capitalists as consumers.

The capitalists are few compared with the rest and they therefore can’t consume most of the wealth. The workers can only buy as much as their wages amount to, and in America wages are a small proportion of the total output of industry, which is very efficient in production. That mass production and highly-developed machine system of America (so much advocated as our remedy here) has produced the problem of problems for the giant trusts and companies there. How can the products be disposed of? The products must be sold if the owners can realise their profits. The modern U.S.A. factory can produce more wealth with less hands than formerly and so the home market is made up of millions on a barely existing wage and the rest without wages at all. More and more, therefore, the owning class have turned to the export trade to South America and the East, but the other countries are also seeking trade there, and some of the countries once America’s customers, like Japan, are now America’s rivals.

The Home Market in America can be supplied very rapidly because of that increasing output of the modern machine plant, and consequently the unemployment of millions is a regular thing in the United States, as it is in Europe. The uncertainty of the “workers” job is greater there because of the larger output per man in the centralised and trustified organisation of industry.

So in the world’s most productive country, where millionaires and luxury abound amongst the owning class—there is want, bitter want for millions. Charities are appealed to and the out-of-work has to “panhandle” or beg for a cup of coffee on the street in competition with crowds of his fellows.

So even though problems of production are easily solved—the worker is left to want. Unemployment is due to a condition common to every capitalist country—that is private ownership of the means of living.

The hope of the worker in the U.S.A. is the hope of the worker in Europe and Asia —that is common ownership of the means of production and distribution—Socialism.
Adolph Kohn

Correspondence: A Defence of the I.L.P. and Our Reply. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard
We print below a letter from a correspondent and our comments on same :—
Davenport Road, Catford, S.E.6.

Dear Comrades,

As a member of the I.L.P., may I be allowed to correct a mis-statement in your issue of November last? In your reply to ”I.L.P.-er” (Croydon) you state : “It will be news to us that the I.L.P. propose to abolish private ownership. It will also be news to the I.L.P.” Of the first part of that statement I can but express my doubt. Of the second I can give a direct contradiction by quoting the object of the Party, which is printed on page 3 of the membership cards :
” Object—The establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.”

” The Socialist Commonwealth is that state of society in which Land and Capital are communally owned.”
This object is similar to your own.

Will you be candid enough to publish this statement? I hope so ! Of the rest of that reply I will not deal, as I have no doubt that the comrade who was responsible for it has since felt ashamed of it. If he is not I shall be very glad to explain to him why he ought to be.

With every fraternal wish to your party and our cause,
” I.L.P.-er ” 

This correspondent objects to the reply given to “I.L.P.-er, Croydon” (see November issue), that the I.L.P. is not in favour of the abolition of the private ownership of the machinery of production. To support his contention, he quotes the I.L.P. declaration that its object is the “communal ” ownership of “Land and Capital.” This, he says, is an object similar to our own. That statement merely illustrates his own and his organisation’s confused thinking. Capital is money invested with a view to obtaining a profit by the employment of wage-earners. “Capital” cannot therefore be “communally” owned. Socialism or communal ownership involves the abolition of the wages system, the abolition of a propertied class and a wage-earning class, the abolition of capital. The means of production, land, factories, railways, etc., will be owned by the community, and it will no longer be possible for a propertied class to live by owning property : the means of production will not then be “capital.”

As was pointed out in our earlier reply, the I.L.P. programme does not involve the abolition of the right of property owners to live by owning property. It merely proposes that “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” (The Socialist Programme (p. 24), published by the I.L.P.). In short, it proposes to replace individual and company capitalism by State capitalism. The object of the I.L.P. is to reform capitalism. The object of the S.P.G.B. is to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism. Our aims are therefore not similar; they are irreconcilably opposed.

As we have many times demonstrated, the reform known as Nationalisation, or State capitalism, is not beneficial but directly harmful to the working class, even considered as an immediate policy. Further, it is not a step towards Socialism.

With regard to the remainder of the above letter, it is worthy of notice that our original I.L.P. critic from Croydon has not contested the adequacy of our reply or the accuracy of our criticisms of the I.L.P. programme. I.L.P.’er, from Catford, intervenes on his behalf and can offer nothing better than childish remarks on the “shame” which we ought to feel for having made unchallenged statements about the I.L.P.’s position.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Money and Price. A Critics Rejoinder and our Reply. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard


Mr. A. E. Jacomb, writing under above heading, fondly imagines that he replies to Rimington, whereas he does nothing of the sort. His greatest coup is a slip on my part wherein, by accident, I inverted the exchange rate of the £1 to the Dollar. Such cheap scoring is beneath contempt; and Mr. Jacomb would have shone indeed if he had succeeded in proving his case that a revolutionary change in the cost of reproduction did not affect the price of a commodity.

Jacomb expresses surprise that gold has price. Later on he says that an ounce of gold is coined into money expressed by the figure £3 17s. 10½d. In to-day’s paper, December 14th, 1927, I see that gold is quoted at £4 4s. 11½d. per ounce. Then he proceeds to mix gold up with currency, and asks, “What, then, is the monetary expression of money?”; of course, that depends upon what the money is made of. The golden sovereign contains gold that actually contains, and is a concentrated embodiment of a large amount of human labour power. Silver and copper coins, say 20s. or 240 pence, do not contain anything like as much. Their relations in exchange are arbitrary, and outside of the countries in which they are in use, their value, which consists entirely of the metals of which they are composed, would be represented as such, unless they could be returned to the country of origin. Of course, it will be meaningless to Jacomb that gold is £4 4s.11½ per ounce, and that it is a bad price; for taking £3 17s. 10½d. as the pre-war price, it means about 8 per cent. rise, whereas, according to the Index figure, other commodities are up 65 per cent. on pre-war. As the various Governments do not appear to contemplate a return to a gold currency, its price may grow even relatively worse, which may account for the Americans dumping it back again.

Price is the monetary expression of exchange value, and there is no divine hand that determines that the monetary expression shall be gold. Look at Germany during the inflation period ; prices equated to a printing press. It needed a mathematician with prophetic genius to know when to hold and when to part with goods— any old metal would have been preferable.

I have an idea that Governments have lost their faith in gold; the fact that it is being hawked to-day at £4 4s. 11½d. makes it look fishy. According to the book, it should be a lot more per ounce. Apparently the most, powerful monopoly, the gold interests, has been broken. The price, £3 17s. 10½d. per ounce, in pre-war days must either have left them a huge margin, else they have struck King Solomon’s deposits, and maybe that in time gold will function in place of aluminium as cooking utensils.

Next he questions my statement that commerce could not operate by a transference of gold without half the population being engaged in gold extraction. I should have said an enormous number, not half; for I do not know exactly how much labour power is necessary to raise a ton of gold. Nevertheless, I had previously stated that the amount of gold held by the banks only fractionally covered the paper in circulation, and when you come to consider that currency is but the small change of commerce, just imagine what would transpire if every business transaction meant that the purchaser handed over to the vendor a gold equivalent; why, we should have gold going about on drays, else the price of gold would get so far away from its value that an ounce would buy a battleship and the Gold Interests would buy a few planets with the surplus value.

Really, my dear Jacomb, you do try one’s patience when you ask such a ridiculous question, “What, then, is the golden equivalent of a hundred loaves of bread after they have passed into consumption?” and I feel that I am justified in saying that the golden equivalent of a hundred loaves of bread to-day must have considerably depreciated since the introduction of fixed nitrogen as a fertiliser. It would be difficult to get at the back of Rimington’s mind if one accepted Jacomb’s imputation of what I said in my criticism. Then he arrives at his greatest triumph, my slip in the inversion of the exchange rate of the Dollar to the £1, and after his ignorant guffaw, he impudently says that I said that their exchange rate had nothing to do with what they would buy in their respective countries. It is an assumption that these Governments will buy gold, but goods they are always ready to exchange for goods, provided that there is a margin and they keep a day to day tab on the exchange rate, i.e., how much goods the money will buy in each country. Some German firms actually quote to English buyers in American dollars; they have not faith in a constant purchasing power of the currency of either coantries, which is rather strange in view of the recent drop of the dollar to 4.88½. That is why I prefer to say that the value of currency is determined by whatever other commodities it will buy in its own country than gold. Its use value as currency has departed, and it appears to be an economic fifth wheel. Jacomb not only misquotes my criticism, but claims my arguments as his own, and then brazenly fastens his absurdities on me. He asks who is right; surely there are some S.P.G.B’ers. capable of putting him out of his misery, but do not let him dodge away. Is he correct in his economic interpretation in his article, “Should we produce more?”? (October, 27th, “S.S.”) I contend he is utterly wrong.
Yours fraternally,
F. L. Rimington.

Our Reply.
Mr. Rimington makes no attempt whatever to answer my questions : “What is the monetary expression of money?” and “How is the fall in the price of gold to which my critic refers expressed ?” The nearest he gets to answering the first is to say that it “depends upon what the money is made of,” and to follow with a rigmarole about silver and copper coins, which is quite beside the point, because, in this country, silver and copper coins are not money. Since this coinage does not contain value (past labour) corresponding to its face value, it cannot be the measure of value of other commodities, and, as Marx says (“Critique of Political Economy,” p. 164), “a commodity thus becomes money only in its combined capacity of a measure of value and medium of circulation.” In this country, then, money is gold ; and now I will show the ridiculousness of my critic’s position by quoting his own words. He said (“S.S.,” December, 1927, p. 54) : “price” is “merely an indication of the relative value of each commodity to the amount of gold contained in the £1 sterling.” On this showing, then, the “price” Mr. Rimington quotes for an ounce of gold (£4 4s. 11½d.) “is merely an indication of the relative value of ‘that’ commodity to the amount, of gold contained in the” ounce of gold which is coined into £3 17s. 10½ d. ! The two ounces of gold, then, are different. One has more value in it than the other. Well, sovereigns are not particularly hard to get, and it is quite legal to melt them down. Mr. Rimington can make his fortune by melting them. When he has stripped his sovereigns of their uniforms, and converted them into plain ounces of gold, he can take those ounces of gold to the Bank of England, where he will get £3 17s. 9d. for them—a loss of 1½d. Or he can recover in full at the Mint, who pay £3 17s. 10½d., but in that case he will have to wait for his money. Mr. Rimington is still challenged to show how the fall in the price of gold which he claims has taken place can be expressed, and before he takes up the challenge, let him square his answer with his statement that price “is merely an indication of the relative value of each commodity to the amount of gold contained in the £1 sterling.”

Mr. Rimington’s errors were so numerous and palpable in his first letter that I am afraid I missed the central idea of his attack, which was contained in the words, “goods exchange for goods . . . price was merely an indication of the relative value of each commodity to the amount of gold contained in the £1 sterling.” “Goods exchange for goods ” — ye Gods ! Mr. Rimington is himself so mixed that I offer no apology for not being able to disentangle his meaning from his inconsistencies at the first attempt. He is mystified by the market quotation, £4 4s. 11½d. per ounce, of gold and the mint “price,” £3 17s. 10½d., and can only think that the latter figures are mere reckoning figures, which have lost all touch with the actual value of gold. Only in this way can he arrive at the result that the writer was wrong when he stated that, if all producers doubled their output, prices would remain the same. Mr. Rimington sees in gold bullion something different to that which is represented by the £1 sterling. He loses sight of his own definition of price, quoted above, and imagines that gold produced at half the expenditure of labour-power is going to fall to half the “price” of gold sterling. In other words, the figures representing gold sterling are no longer what they pretend to be, and gold finds itself in fluctuating relations therewith. “Goods exchange for goods” ! Gold is no longer in the picture ! At one time it was £3 17s. 10½d. per ounce, but at present it is £4 4s. 11½d., and some day it may be, say, £1 10s. per ounce ! How does this agree with my critic’s definition of price as “an indication of the relative value of each commodity to the amount of gold contained in the £1 sterling”? Mr. Rimington is in a terrible muddle, and all because he cannot realise that the ounce of gold, whatever its value, that is, whatever labour-time is necessary to its production, is still an ounce of gold, and exactly the weight of £3 17s. 10½d. in gold coin.

Surely I could not myself have found an illustration more shattering to Mr. Rimington’s view than that supplied by himself when he says: “Look at Germany during the inflation period ; prices equated to a printing press.” As a matter of fact, “prices equated” to the infinitesimal amount of gold behind the “printing press.” This in itself shows what becomes of prices when there is not a solid backing of gold behind its tokens.

I am sorry my critic is angry because I poked fun at his bloomer—though it was only six words. But doesn’t his mistake show that he doesn’t carefully read what he has written? And now I am accused of misquoting my opponent. Referring to myself, he writes, “He impudently says that I said that their exchange rate had nothing to do with what they would buy in their respective countries.” The statement Mr. Rimington says I attributed to him was my own statement, not his, and was clearly enough written for anyone to understand who has had the education my critic shows evidence of. But if he falsely says I misquoted him, I can show that he misquoted me, for he says that I try his patience when I ask “such a ridiculous question, ‘What, then, is the golden equivalent of a hundred loaves of bread when they have passed into consumption?'” My words were, “… what would become, will my critic tell us, of the golden equivalent of a hundred loaves of bread when the latter were consumed?” Quite a different question. These examples show that my critic not only is careless with regard to what he himself writes, but does not carefully read the replies of his opponents. To carry on a debate in such a manner is an abuse of the hospitality of these columns little short of disgusting. He need not fear that I wish to escape. If any of my statements are wrong, I know my duty to the Cause of Socialism too well to delay their retraction.
A. E. Jacomb