Monday, August 1, 2022

News in Review: Japan, tough competitor (1965)

The News in Review column from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
You'll note that part of the third paragraph under 'Japan, tough competitor' is garbled. Obviously part of that paragraph is missing and, unfortunately, there was no correction in subsequent issues of the Standard. You'll just have to suffer  . . . just like I did.

If you click on this link under the 'For Queen and country' column, you'll see footage of a young Tariq Ali.

Japan, tough competitor

The products of Japanese industry have always been strong competitors in the markets of the world.

In many cases, they have beaten British goods by sheer superiority in delivery, price and quality. Because many British workers regard the Japanese as inferior people, their economic victories have always been difficult to explain away. The solution to this was to popularise three stories, all of them designed to illustrate that the Japanese were treacherous little Oriental monkeys. This impression stirred up a lot of feelings which were successfully exploited after Pearl Harbour.

Briefly, the stories were: That all Japanese worker also gets a lot of what a time when British miners were continuously fighting against enforced cuts in their pay); That the Japanese were incapable of giving birth to an original idea and made up for this by simply pirating the designs of other countries (as if this was confined to the industries of only one country—international patents actions are going on all the time); That Japan was a country where only light industry could flourish—the heavier stuff had to be left to the sturdy Europeans (unemployed shipyard and steel mill workers could be excused for not appreciating the force of this point).

If there was ever any truth in these stories, there is very little in them today. Wages in Japan now compare with those in most other industrial countries; the Japanese worker also gets a lot of what are called fringe benefits—cheap housing, holidays, food and so on.

Japanese products are now becoming known for the originality of their design. They pioneered the mass production of the portable transistor radio (blast them). The Honda motor cycle now commands sixty per cent of the United States market. They have recently introduced a new car—the Daihatsu Compagno Berlina—to the British market which is notable for the number of “extras” (fog lamps, stainless steel bumpers, etc.) it has, all included in the near competitive price.

Other countries, in fact, are now stealing Japanese ideas. The plague of transistor radios is now being fed by British products. A Dutch shipbuilding firm has defied the patent on a Japanese-designed liner bow and American and West German firms have recently bought a new steel-making process from Japan.

Finally, Japanese heavy industry is booming ahead. This year, the steel industry there expects to produce thirty-nine million tons of crude steel (in 1949 production was nil—the British industry’s capacity of crude steel for 1965 was estimated in the recent White Paper at about thirty million tons.) Japanese shipyards expect to lay down the keels of two and a half million tons of shipping in 1965.

All of this means that, even after the pre-war methods have been discarded, Japan remains a strong rival in the world of capitalism. Indeed, under a powerful central control from the government, she is probably now a tougher proposition than ever.

In this process, several favourite myths have been laid low. This is not to say that, if at some time in the future Japan once more becomes involved in an international dispute, other myths, equally false, will not be concocted to explain away the immovable fact that the nations of capitalism are perpetually in dispute over the division of the spoils of exploitation.

For Queen and country

It would be better for everyone, including the young people themselves, if the antics of university students were not taken so seriously.

Universities are often among the most active units of what Peter Simple calls the Protest Industry. But when the undergraduates leave their youth behind them they usually forget the restless days of protest and fall into line with capitalism’s requirements of docility.

This is the background to the recent Queen and Country debate at the Oxford Union, which aroused such a lot of criticism, most of it based on the incorrect assumption that the motion was going to be carried.

It would be interesting to know what all those indignant letter-writers think about the Oxford students, now that they have signified that they will fight for Queen and Country.

In any case, the indignation was always misplaced. It is not uncommon for university unions to debate—and sometimes to pass—motions which sound very daring. In 1914, the Oxford Union voted against Britain being a member of the Triple Entente; in 1927 the Cambridge Union was in favour of pacifism; a few years later Oxford said that they preferred the Red Flag to the Union Jack.

And, of course, in 1933 Oxford decided that in no circumstances would they fight for King and Country.

Well, what happened? Among the supporters of that famous decision were at least two members of the present government whose present policy, as we all know, is to persuade other people to fight for Queen and Country in Malaysia, Arabia and other points East of Suez. These two are Anthony Greenwood and Michael Stewart.

It is difficult to trace what happened to most of the other 275 young people who voted for the motion. According to the proposer of this year’s motion, in 1939 they were “first in the fight against fascism.”

In other words, they did fight for King and Country after all, although perhaps under the deception that it was for some other, more worthy, motive. Apparently, they did not expect the British ruling class to try to mislead anyone about the causes of the Second World War.

In the event, the rebellious students of 1933 were as easy to deceive as any mental clodhopper who had never got within sight of the dreaming spires.

It is said that many statesmen—Hitler, Joseph Kennedy—accepted the 1933 motion as proof that the British working class would not fight in another war. If this is true, it only goes to show how badly capitalist politicians can misjudge a situation.

The 1965 debate, then, should not be given undue significance. Perhaps it was a publicity stunt, aimed at needling exactly the sort of people whose hostility was provoked. There is no reason to suppose that, if a war came, the rebellious students will not once again consign their university days to an embarrassed memory, and go dutifully out to fight for the interests of British capitalism. (Perhaps it will be in alliance with Nasser and Nkrumah, as Sir Richard Acland, who supported the motion, would like.)

Whatever the Queen and Country debate may suggest, of one thing it is innocent. It had no hint of enlightenment about the cause of capitalism’s wars, nor of determination to oppose them.

For university students and for the rest of the working class, that enlightenment is in the future.

China in Africa

An unexpected result of nuclear weapons in the hands of great powers, and the precarious Balance of Terror that has resulted, has been to increase rather than decrease the bargaining power of small nations.

Contrary to what might have been expected a decade or so ago, we have witnessed many cheeky acts of defiance by small and industrially backward nations towards great powers, which could probably overrun them in half a day without even using their nuclear weapons.

Attacking embassies and burning flags on the one hand, and nationalising the assets of some vast combine on the other, have become quite common place.

The smaller powers bank on the presumption that any move against them by one block, will bring the others hot foot to their rescue. Not, needless to say, because of any love towards the nation in question, but because they fear that an advantage may be gained by their opponents. While the giants manoeuvre for position, the little fellows nip about between their feet.

This is risky, as there is always a danger of getting trodden on. If the issue is really big enough the great powers will go ahead, and the small country is liable to become a graveyard. But in this jungle of Capitalism all methods must be used to forward the interest of the ruling class. One of the most successful ways of doing this is for a small power to try to milk a large power, or several if possible, for economic aid while committing themselves to as little as possible.

This position has been spotlighted again by the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai to Africa, and his concentration on small and weak Tanzania. After all China is one of the world’s great powers and Chou En-lai is one of their top politicians. Palmerston or Bismark did not trail around, personally, to out of the way places, but times have changed and the struggle has become much more acute. No advantage, however small, can be passed over and so the visits of Heads of States, all over the place, goes on.

Chou En-lai appears to have had a rather mixed reception, as illustrated by President Kenyatta’s attack. Chou En-lai’s statement, on his last visit that “revolutionary prospects in Africa are excellent," did not go down very well with the new African leaders.

After all having just pulled off one upheaval, which has put them in the saddle, they are not likely to welcome another, which would probably put them out of it.

German visit

If it is true that history repeats itself, this is only another way of saying that capitalism’s problems are as persistent and repetitive as the ruling classes’ methods of dealing with them.

In 1904 Edward VII paid his famous visit to France, which sealed the alliance known as the Entente Cordiale, bringing to a close a century of enmity between Britain and France.

The visit was hailed as a great step towards peace—some especially wretched commentators actually went so far as to call the lewd and gluttonous King Edward the Peacemaker.

They probably were aware that the Franco-British alliance was made not in the cause of peace but as a shield against a greater and more immediate threat than the two countries offered to each other.

In 1904 the expansive menace of Germany was taking definite shape and the future was unmistakeable to the diplomats and the politicians. So the Entente was sealed, and the King packed off to France to give public, if vulgar, evidence of it.

Since then, there has been fifty years of persistent enmity between the British and German ruling classes. This situation had to end sometime, as the power line-up changed, as new markets were developed, as new weapons came on to the scene, as new threats emerged.

Both Britain and Germany are now united against the threat of Soviet Russia; both countries want to see Russian imperialism in Europe contained.

At the same time, both countries are now at odds with French ambitions, personified so aptly in the massive figure of de Gaulle, to see Europe united against both Russian and American encroachments—but under French domination.

The British ruling class are still wooing the Common Market; Germany is by no means hostile to these advances but once again the obstruction comes from Paris. (Britain is currently investigating the back alleys into Europe; witness Wilson’s recent visit to Vienna, where he pleaded for closer relations between E.E.C. and E.F.T.A.)

Thus the interests of the German and British ruling classes coincide at several important points. In addition, Germany has shown over the past twenty years that the expansionist ambitions of the first half of this century are laid to rest.

However powerful a competitor Germany may be, there is no sign of a resurgence of the explosive nationalism of 1914 and 1939. The time is ripe for another Entente Cordiale to be sealed— this time between Germany and Britain, directed partly against France. Thus history repeats itself, although the principal actors have changed their places.

This was the symbolism of last May’s visit by the Queen to Germany. She was doing there the same sordid job as her great-grandfather did in France in 1904.

Some German newspapers complained that the Queen did not smile enough at the welcoming crowds. Perhaps she was tired, or bored, or fed up with her well-paid job as the figurehead of British capitalism. But any politician could have told her (and for all we know one or two have) that she was making a serious mistake.

Capitalism's diplomacy demands that no matter how devious the bargaining, how ruthless the treachery, the leading public actors do not give way to any human feelings, but all the time smile, darn you, smile.

Problems for Labour Governments (1965)

From the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The enthusiasm of Labour Party supporters for their government is not what it used to be. They voted for Wilson’s government last October—just sufficient of them to give it a bare majority—and no doubt they are convinced that it is more deserving of support than the Conservatives, but there is not the fine careless rapture with which Labour voters heralded earlier Labour victories. In politics it is often better to travel hopefully than to arrive, and certainly the end of each Labour government has been in an atmosphere of disappointment among even its most loyal friends.

The "Government of Brains."
It would probably surprise many of those who voted Labour at the last election to be told that it is now over forty years since the first Labour Government took office, in the winters of 1923, and that the present Labour Government is the fourth—the fifth if Attlee's second government, after the election of February 1950 is treated as a separate administration.

Although the first Labour Government claimed to be “the Government of brains” its year of uneasy office made little difference to the way things had been going before it came in. It was not the largest party in the House of Commons: the Tories had 258 M.P.’s, the Liberals 158 and the Labour Party 191. But the Liberals wouldn’t support a continuation of Tory government so it fell to the Labour Party to become a government dependent on Liberal votes.

The main issue of the election had been the Tory government’s proposal to introduce a wide range of duties on imports. This was opposed by the Liberals and by the Labour Party, both of which at that time were devotees of free trade. In view of the fact that the Labour Party is now as much committed to protective tariffs as the Tories (and signalled its entry into office by the 15 per cent import levy) it is interesting to read in the Labour Party’s 1923 election manifesto that “tariffs are not a remedy for unemployment. They are an impediment to the free exchange of goods and services upon which civilised society rests. They foster a spirit of profiteering, materialism and selfishness, poison the life of nations, lead to corruption in politics, promote trusts and monopolies and impoverish the people”.

True to his Party’s pledge the 1923 Labour Chancellor, of the Exchequer, Snowden, reduced taxation on food by £24 million a year to keep down prices, though when they went out of office the retail price index was slightly higher than when they went in. Unemployment had fallen a little, from 1,340,000 to 1,247,000 and wages had risen by five or six per cent.

One of the promises of the Election Manifesto was that, if elected, Labour would at once introduce a “capital levy” on everyone owning £5,000 or more and use it to pay off the National Debt and reduce taxation. For various reasons, including their lack of a Parliamentary majority, the Labour Party dropped the scheme and never revived it again, though it had been presented as an indispensable measure. If they had enacted the levy it would have been of no interest to workers: all that it would have achieved would have been, as one of its supporters admitted, “a transfer of wealth among wealthy persons”. It would have deprived property owners of some property but at the same time reduced their tax burden.

When, after a year, the Labour government were defeated in a “vote of confidence” and resigned, it was not over some action to show that they desired “the suppression of the capitalist system” as they had declared in Parliament only a few months before taking office, but over the withdrawn prosecution for sedition of a member of the Communist Party.

Some sections of the Labour Party drew the conclusion from their disappointing first experience of government that they should not again take office without a majority in Parliament. A resolution to this effect was moved by the late Ernest Bevin at the 1925 Labour Party conference but was overwhelmingly defeated.

The Government of Disaster 1929-1931.
When the Labour Government came back in May 1929 they were full of optimism. They were now the largest party, with 287 M.P.’s against Tory 260 and Liberal 59. They had seen the continued decline of the once powerful Liberal Party and the failure of Lloyd George to stage a Liberal come-back in spite of his pledge that within 12 months the Liberals would reduce unemployment to “normal levels”. Unemployment had for several years been above the million level and the new government, under J. R. MacDonald (who also had led the first government in 1923-24), gave priority to dealing with it. They gave J. H. Thomas, the railway union leader, the ministerial responsibility, helped by a committee of three, one of whom was Oswald Mosley. MacDonald (like Attlee and Wilson in later governments) collected round him an Economic Advisory Council, consisting of economists, industrialists and others to advise him on economic problems; but, as Henry Pelling remarks, “unfortunately, the experts could not agree and Snowden preferred to follow the recommendations of his Treasury officials”. (Short History of the Labour Party.)

It was later confessed by Thomas that he had been advised by an “expert” that unemployment had at last reached its peak and was about to decline; and he had believed this. Unfortunately for Thomas, the government were not at the bottom of the depression but at the edge of another trade decline, the biggest for half a century. The unemployment figures started rising almost immediately the Labour Government took office. At the time of the election in May 1929 unemployment was 1,165,000; a year later 1,759,000 and two years later 2,702,000. What was happening was a long term decline of some big British industries, coal, cotton, shipping among them—and a world-wide decline of trade, with record unemployment in America and Europe alike.

Many people have said in the years since the second world war how happy they would be if only prices would not go on rising. The years of the second Labour Government were years of falling prices—but few were happy about it and wages were falling too.

Government revenue was not growing as fast as Government expenditure—a situation which was pushing them towards reductions in the pay of civil servants, teachers, police, etc, and towards cuts in unemployment pay. At the same time exports were declining heavily month by month and producing the symptoms of the “adverse balance of payments”—too few exports to pay for imports and the consequent selling of British Pounds by foreign holders for fear of devaluation.

The tension split the Government and the Labour Party. Prime Minister MacDonald, along with Snowden, Thomas and some others formed a National Government with Tories and some Liberals while the rest of the Labour Party went into opposition. Ironically it was the National Government, formed “to save the Pound” which proceeded to go off the gold standard.

Attlee's Turn in 1945.
For the first time in its history the Labour Party at the election in July 1945 obtained a clear Parliamentary majority of 146 over all other parties, 393 in a House of 640, the Tories having 213 and the Liberals 12. There was nothing now in the political balance of parties to prevent Labour carrying out the Nationalisation and other measures named in their Election Manifesto.

Governments sometimes flagrantly break their election pledges and fail even to try to do what they said they would do. It was the fate of the Labour Party’s first majority government that, having carried out a lot of its specific pledges, nobody liked the results very much, not even the Labour supporters who had shouted for them. This was true for example of Nationalisation—the railwaymen and miners soon found that it was only a different name on the industry, and any misguided gratitude the electors may have felt for the new Health Service and National Insurance Scheme did not last very long.

On a superficial view the Government’s financial position was a happy one. Had they not ended the war and cut armament expenditure to half, and could they not devote the money to social reforms? In fact what they faced was industry running at a production level well below that of pre-war; the need to get aid from America; difficulties in getting foreign produced raw materials owing to war-time destruction; and the problem of the desperate shortage of housing, made far worse than usual by the war.

Capitalism has many faces at different times. In 1929-31 the Labour Government’s biggest worries were mounting unemployment, falling prices and falling exports. In 1945-1951 they were equally worried by scarcities of labour, scarcity of materials, inability to take advantage of overseas “sellers markets”, and by rising prices. They had promised stable prices and had to explain why prices steadily rose and why wage rates were lagging behind them.

History was to have an ironical revenge on them about the maintenance of the Pound. In 1931 the Attlee group in the Labour Party, which did not follow MacDonald into his coalition with the Tories and Liberals, had scoffed at the gold standard and argued that it was something better got rid of: they were only too pleased to see MacDonald’s government unable to save the Pound. But in 1949 the position was reversed: now it was the Labour Party led by Attlee which, after repeatedly pledging “no devaluation”, and declaring that devaluation would cause prices to rise, suddenly devalued by thirty per cent. (The present Labour Government under Wilson is promising not to go in for another devaluation.)
Rising prices had quite a lot to do with the eventual defeat of Attlee’s government in the 1951 election, after they had staggered along between 1950 and 1951 on a very narrow majority. The outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 drew the Labour Government into a massive programme of rearmament at the same time as the war had sent prices of many raw materials rocketing. The rise of 10 per cent in retail prices in 1951 was the sharpest for years and must have influenced many voters “to give the Tories a chance”.

What has experience of governing, spread over forty years taught the Labour Party? It has possibly made them more knowledgable in handling capitalism’s financial and economic problems, though their Tory opponents profess to doubt it; otherwise all it appears to have done is to induce them to drop even the pretence of replacing capitalism by Socialism about which they used to declaim before they first took on the job of administering British capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Blogger's Note:
"(The present Labour Government under Wilson is promising not to go in for another devaluation.)" 

A promise that they eventually broke. In 1967  the pound was devalued by 14% from $2.80 to $2.40 by the Labour Chancellor, Jim Callaghan.

Labour versus the Trade Unions (1965)

From the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

There have been several attempts by the employing class to use its political power to pass laws or make judgments designed to render effective Trade Union action illegal. Such laws and judgments have stimulated in the Unions the idea that a political party of their own creation can be used to repeal the laws or amend the injustices.

This idea prompted the British Trade Unions to sire the British Labour Party and, ever since, to accept responsibility for its progress and to pander to its requirements. Like doting parents the Unions subdue their own interests whenever they appear to conflict with the needs of their offspring, even though the offspring has reached adulthood.

Not all Trade Unionists subscribe to the idea of harnessing the Unions to the Labour Party. The majority have little interest in official policies. They regard their Union as a body apart from themselves to which they contribute a weekly subscription and expect to get a service in return. They will commonly use such a phrase as, “What is the Union doing about it?”, as though the Union is some entity over which they have no control but which should be looking after their interests. Union officials heighten this impression by speaking of giving the members a service, as an insurance company might speak of its clients.

It is an active minority in the Trade Unions that keeps the Union's sails trimmed to the Labour Party's winds. It is these active Trade Unionists who, in the main, are keen Labour Party supporters, many of them holding office in local Labour Parties or the national body. It is they who sit at conferences and committees and voice the Labour Party’s interests.

For years the reports of Trade Union conferences and of the Trades Union Congress have bristled with speeches and appeals to Trade Union members, urging them to do nothing that might jeopardise the progress and prospects of the Labour Party, particularly when a parliamentary election has been in the offing. Even the expression of unfavourable opinions has been frowned upon as, for instance, a statement by Mr. W. J. P. Webber of the Transport and Salaried Staffs’ Association at the I960 Trades Union Congress:
Such opinions inside and outside this country, shared by friends and enemies alike, can spell disaster and tragedy for the Labour Movement.
At the Transport and General Workers’ Union biennial conference during the same year, delegates ardently appealed to the conference not to adopt certain policies, even though they themselves favoured them, because those policies were contrary to the Labour Party policy and might cause a rift in the Labour Party ranks.

In the early years of this century it was the Taff Vale judgment which rallied the Trade Unions to the Labour Party. In 1924 it was the desire to repeal the Emergency Powers Act; in 1929 to repeal the Trade Disputes Act of 1927; in 1945 is was again the Trade Disputes Act which was still on the statute book, plus government Order 1305; in 1964 it was partly the impatience at .the Tory government’s efforts to put a brake on wage increases.

When, in 1945, with a swamping majority, and again in 1964 with a slim one, the Labour Party was elected to government, the active Trade Unionists rubbed their hands with delight and the inactive ones breathed hopefully. The lessons from previous Labour Governments had not been learned.

Following the 1945 election the Labour Government repealed the 1927 Trade Disputes Act but the only noticeable difference was the increased flow of finance into the Labour Party coffers through the removal of the political levy “Contracting in” clause of the act. Mr. G. D. H. Cole in his History of the Labour Party Since 1914 quoted the rise in Trade Union membership of the Labour Party from 2,635,346 in 1946 to 4,031,434 in 1947. Order 1305 was abolished—but the substituting of order 1375 passed without notice on the part of the majority of Trade Unionists.

The Labour Party fought the 1945 General Election on a programme entitled, Let Us Face The Future, in which they appealed to the Trade Unions with the promise, among others;
. . . a high and constant purchasing power can be maintained through good wages . . . money and savings lose their value if prices rise, so rents and the price of the necessities of life will be controlled.
In 1948 the Labour Government published, The Short Economic Survey, which had a very George Brown sound about it. The proposals for better living standards for all were summed up on page 15 with the following:
  1. Working harder and more skilfully.
  2. Arranging our work so that the same effort produces more goods.
  3. Giving up old ways that use too many people on a job. Together with, of course an urge to spend less, save more and please, please, moderate those wage demands, because the danger lies, “ . . . not in producing too much but producing too little—and too dear.” (Government poster, 1948.)
Despite these policies and appeals, 1,333 industrial disputes were reported to the Minister of Labour during 1950 alone, most of them “Unofficial” and the majority in the nationalised industries. From 1945 till the Labour Party left government office in 1951, the workers fought a continuous battle, trying to keep .their wages climbing as fast as the rising living costs.

Labour politicians, who had been loud in their denunciation of their Tory predecessors’ use of troops during strikes, did exactly the same thing a number of times while they were the government and even went so far as to prosecute workers for striking.

Comparing the present Labour Government’s policy on wages with that of their 1945 counterpart reveals that the only difference is that they are exactly alike. Today’s First Secretary of State, Mr. George Brown, has obtained the support of many Trade Unions for his Productivity, Prices and Incomes Policy. On December 16th last he got a “Joint Statement of Intent” from representatives of Trade Unions and managements on behalf of their members. It reads:
. . . to encourage and lead a sustained attack on the obstacles to efficiency, whether on the part of the management or of the workers, and to strive for the adoption of more rigorous. standards of performance at all levels.
With this goes the proposal for a three per cent “norm” in annual wage increases. It is hard to detect a difference between this and the previous Tory government’s effort to keep wage rises at an annual three per cent level. To Tom, Dick and Mary in the rank and file of the Trade Unions it is all the same.

Workers still have to struggle to keep their wages in pace with rising costs. The recent increases to Passenger Transport workers, for example, were argued for on the basis of the movement of the Cost of Living Index and the general rise in prices since June 1964.

“Unofficial” strikers are no respecters of political parties. Strikes are the direct result of the discontent bred of capitalism and when a Labour Party undertakes to administer capitalism it will still have to deal with them.

The strike is the workers’ ultimate weapon and, if Trade Union officialdom lines up with the Labour Government, it is unlikely that the weapon will be used officially. It is more possible that Union officials will try to assume powers to discipline members who strike without their authority.

Any hopeful assumption that Messrs. Wilson, Cousins and company will achieve better results for the workers than did Messrs. Attlee, Bevan and company, is doomed to disappointment. Good intentions, sincerity, better public images or astute statesmanship cannot make Capitalism function to benefit the workers. Whilst the workers continue to accept Capitalism their ability to maintain their living standards at a desired level will often depend on their industrial strength and its tactical use. Political support to a Labour Party which has no notion of abolishing Capitalism, but hopes to make it run smoothly, will lead eventually to disillusionment and conflict between that party and the workers.
W. Waters.

The building industry (1984)

From the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism ignores human needs. In the name of efficiency it wastes energies and stops or restricts production; in the name of market freedom it erects a barrier to free consumption; in the name of economic rationality it produces the most irrational contradictions. Food is dumped in the sea: people starve to death. Sick, inhumane, and historically outdated, the capitalist system goes on creating its disgusting social contradictions—and will continue to do so until workers decide to reorganise society on the basis of production for use instead of profit.

Consider the construction of housing. The skill and technology to provide every human being with decent accommodation has existed for decades; no person need live in the street or in a slum or, indeed, in the modern slums, designed by architects who have been instructed to design homes consistent with the poverty of their future inhabitants. Every man. woman and child could live in decent accommodation, but the facts of capitalism are far from allowing that to happen. Let us take a good look at these facts:
  • In England and Wales alone there are 1,207,000 occupied dwellings which, according to the Department of the Environment, are unfit for human habitation.
  • There arc 994.000 homes in England and Wales which lack one or more of the basic sanitary amenities.
  • According to the government, 800,000 families are living in overcrowded dwellings.
  • The fact of officially homeless families runs into tens of thousands. These families are often broken up, placed in hostels or left to find room in the overcrowded homes of relatives.
  • Every night many thousands of workers live in the street, often with no more than a cardboard box to protect them from the cold. These street-dwellers are not “eccentric tramps", but unemployed youngsters who had come to urban areas in search of jobs, impoverished men who cannot afford rented accommodation and women who lack jobs or family support.
These are facts which the government produces; the Socialist Party merely reports them. Read the most recent report of the Building Research Establishment or the government-compiled House Condition Survey. As facts, they not only demonstrate that we are living in a society of serious deprivation, but that there are no workers who can even be secure from such threat as long as homes are built for sale or rent rather than solely for use. A worker who lives in “decent" rented accommodation today could lose his or her job tomorrow and be forced to live in slum housing or, if money runs out. on the street. But not only the unemployed live in poor housing: faced with the choice between running a car, taking a pleasant holiday or having to pay the mortgage on a decent home, many an apparently affluent worker has to accept inferior housing.

Even those workers happy with their homes are ever insecure. In the recession, with self-styled members of the "middle class” falling deeper into financial hardship, mortgage payments to the Building Societies are not always kept up and so more than 5,000 homes were repossessed in 1983 as a result of mortgage payment arrears. The recent rise of 2.25 per cent in mortgage rates was the second biggest increase ever. As unemployment rises, particularly within the professional and managerial sector of the working class, so will the number of “home-owners” (mortgage- payers, in fact) who will have to seek inferior dwellings. Others will struggle to pay off the mortgage at the expense of the upkeep of their homes, thus paying for the privilege of living in a pleasantly situated slum. None of this need be so: unfit dwellings. insanitary conditions, overcrowding, vagrancy, choosing between pleasant shelter or a holiday, repossession of homes— these are all features of a system which does not build houses to live in (that would be too simple for the wise minds of the economists), but to sell on the market with a view to profit. It is only because shelter is a commodity rather than an entitlement that the housing problem exists. Indeed, there is no housing problem in our society—there is a social problem arising from the capitalist system, which is not to do with bricks, cement and labour, but with rent, interest and profit.

Never before has the construction industry been able to use such advanced techniques as are available in the mid-1980s. Ask any building worker and he will tell you that, technically, it has never been easier to build decent structures. New materials, mechanised tools and computer design methods make it possible to provide really pleasant dwellings in the time it used to take to produce only shoddy products. In short, the productive forces present no problem to the construction industry. So, are we producing more homes than ever? No. Is what is being produced better than ever? In the vast majority of cases, no. Are efforts being made to intensify the rate of construction of homes so that the conditions outlined above can be eradicated? As an answer, let us examine a few more facts:
  • Approximately half a million workers in the construction industry are on the dole: they are not "needed" to build houses.
  • Housebuilding annually has fallen to its lowest level since the early 1930s. There is no "demand" for houses.
  • There is currently a brick surplus: they have produced more than they can sell. There are more unoccupied homes in London—where thousands are homeless—than there are families needing homes. The homeless cannot afford to pay for the use of the unoccupied shelter.
These are perverse contradictions. As need intensifies, so the construction industry contracts. This does not happen because the owners of the construction companies are wicked people who like ignoring needs. (No doubt some of them are disturbed by the squalor and deprivation caused by their economic decisions.) But those making decisions in the construction industry are not employed to consider the needs of the consumer or the producer, but those of the investor. Those who invest money in the construction industry are not looking for moral dividends, but material gain in the form of profit. So, if it is more profitable to build offices than homes—or squalid dwellings rather than attractive ones—or to cease production altogether rather than satisfy existing needs, those are the decisions which are taken. It is the capitalist system, with its concern for profit before human need, which forces those in control of production to behave in ways which create ludicrous social contradictions.

Accounting for deaths
To those who want to know how it can be rational for nearly half a million building workers, most of whom are skilled, to be thrown on to the scrapheap of the unemployed, the simple answer is that they have been sacrificed to the god of profit. In order to maintain (or increase) profits the construction companies had to employ less workers to do as much (or more) work. For example, in 1981 John Laing (the third biggest contractor in Britain) reduced its workforce by 16.7 per cent, and Wimpey (the biggest) threw out 15.3 per cent of their workers. In addition to laying off workers, the construction firms have made profitable use of the so-called youth training schemes, which are no more than means to provide cheap labour power to the capitalists at a time when young workers have little choice of job. The capitalists who own the construction industry have also used the recession to go as far as they can to destroy the trade unions in their industry. Many firms—particularly sub-contractors who have for years made fortunes out of treating their workers like dirt—will not consider an applicant for a job if he possesses a union card. The increasing tendency to use non-unionised labour has meant that there are wider discrepancies than ever between workers doing the same jobs on different sites. The trade unions, for their part, have been forced virtually to suspend their campaign against lump labour: these days even some of the most militant building workers of past years are often forced by economic circumstances to accept jobs at below the union rate. UCATT officials admit that as long as there is mass unemployment in the construction industry their power to organise is severely limited. One consequence of this is that construction workers are often employed in highly unsafe conditions. Indeed. it is another irony of this mad system that at a time when there is more legislation than ever on the statute book defending safety conditions for building workers and when the technology of construction is safer than ever, the number of accidents in the industry is increasing faster than it was a decade ago. This is happening because of the need to complete jobs quickly and without care, because non-unionised workers are forced to accept dangerous hazards at work, because many of the young wage slaves being brought into the industry have not done apprenticeships and make mistakes, and because it is often cheaper for an employer to run the risk of paying compensation than to go in for expensive safety measures. In short, the cost of a life is a price which the accountants can afford to allow for without letting profits suffer. That is why. according to UCATT, there were more workers killed in the construction industry last year than were killed in the entire Falklands war.

Before the First World War Robert Tressell wrote what is still the finest account in English of working-class life in the building industry: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. All these years later it is still a favourite among construction workers—and the tragedy is that after decades of what the lying capitalists call “progress" the conditions are still very similar. One condition which is strikingly the same as ever is the constant concern of capitalists to produce shoddy (and therefore cheap) buildings where they can get away with it. Capitalism is a system which sticks art (pictures of old Dukes wearing blond wigs and tights) in the galleries and claims to revere creativity, but when it comes to useful production shows contempt for craftsmanship and enterprise. It is very easy for idlers like the Prince of Wales to make pious noises about the ugliness of modern buildings while he roams around from palace to palace, but the socialist concern with architecture is not to have more attractive showpieces in central London (the opinionated Prince was sounding off recently about the new extension to the National Gallery), but to have pleasant structures where it really matters: in places where the majority of people live and work. Of course, it would be utopian to imagine that capitalism could allow beauty to take priority over profit: it is not likely that the architects will be called in (by Royal command) to design pleasant working conditions for the workers on the line at Ford or to replace the squalid council estates with homes fit for humans. The majority of workers can only afford to rent or buy relatively dull and badly designed accommodation. Under this system you get what you pay for. That's why those who build the mansions spend their wages on the rent of second-rate homes while the parasites who own the construction companies live in mansions—usually with a spare cottage in the country for weekends.

What will a socialist society do to the construction industry? Firstly, the purpose of the new social order will be to produce for need and not for profit. So, there will be no concern in the minds of those involved in construction work other than to build what people need. No person need ever again be homeless; no person need live in a dwelling which is unsanitary. Secondly, socialism will end wage slavery, where the labour power of the producers is a commodity to be bought by the highest bidder: builders will produce according to their ability, without receiving wages, in the confident knowledge that they, like all men and women, will have free access to all of the goods and services which humanity can create. Thirdly, there will be no need to produce inferior buildings for "inferior" people to live in. Socialism, which will be a classless society of common ownership and democratic control, will produce the best for everyone. As a matter of fact, it often involves more effort to produce inferior buildings than it would to produce decent ones: one of the perverse features of capitalism is that hours and days are wasted by “experts" working out ways to create rubbish when it is easier (but costlier) to create a decent product. Fourthly, socialism will not allow men and women to endure intolerable hazards for the sake of productivity. That is not to say that there will not be accidents, in a society of production for use. but—and this is the opportunity which socialism offers—there need never be another builder killed because construction is organised on a purposely unsafe basis. Finally, socialism will offer the builder the respect which he (and she, let us not forget) deserves as an artist. In a capitalist society the artist is respected for the useless products of his creation— the more ornamental and useless the more “artistic” the creation must be. In socialism we can start taking pride in useful creations: homes, offices, factories, ships, hospitals. Even today you will often meet workers who take pride in saying that they helped to build that housing estate—but they had no control over its design, they were forced to make it a second-rate product, or if it is worth taking pride in you can bet your Jubilee Mug that they cannot afford to live in it. So, instead of a society of palaces for parasites, why not let us build a society of the best for all? Why not, in other words, join the biggest construction industry ever seen: the movement for world socialism? 
Steve Coleman

Democratic epidemic (1984)

From the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In October 1851 the American Journal of Insanity published an article on “A New Form of Insanity":
In Berlin, a curious subject for a thesis has been found by a student in medicine . . . M. Groddeck has discovered a new form of epidemic, whose virus has of late circulated throughout the Continental Nations with a rapidity contrasting strongly with the solemn and stately march of cholera. Its development. indeed, has been all but simultaneous in the great European capitals . . . M. Groddeck's thesis, publicly maintained, is entitled “De morbo democratico . . .": on the disease of democracy, a new form of insanity.
Social conservatives at the time would have been too busy opposing Chartism to be able to read American academic journals. But in 1984 there are still those who cling to the belief that the movement towards economic and social democracy is like an unnatural disease, to be treated with regular doses of patriotic ideology. Britain, we are told, must be democratic, because its trade rival, Russia, is a dictatorship. The reason for this nonsense is that conservatives, in whatever party, are defending the interests of a small group whose privilege depends on democracy being treated as a joke.

What is the basis of present-day society? Government Inland Revenue statistics show that the richest 3.2 per cent in Britain today own 84 per cent of private listed shares, 91 per cent of private companies, and 88 per cent of the land. According to Tory doublethink, this is called a "property-owning democracy". There is a constant conflict of interests between this minority and the vast majority whom they employ to produce profit for them. The minority accumulate all wealth produced over and above the wages and salaries on which workers survive. This paradox of a rift between those who produce wealth and those who possess it brings us to the first quality needed to avoid contracting the disease of democracy: Tory Logic. In 1976, the Director-General of the CBI, Campbell Adamson, was quoted as saying: "We believe that the lower the increase we can give ourselves as a nation next year, the better off we will all be”.

How can it be that “the nation” is better off if we are paid less? Because capitalism is based on a fundamental class division between owners and producers. An employer who spends £100 on materials and machinery in a week, and £100 on a wage to a worker, then accumulates all the surplus value that is produced. By mid-week, the worker has created £200 worth of saleable commodities, thus covering the employer’s costs. But the worker must continue, and all that is created during the rest of the week is surplus value, which serves to increase the capital of the capitalist class. This is the legalised robbery on which present-day society is based. For example, in the British Oxygen Company sixty-three people hold between them 155 million shares. In 1981 the average “value added", or wealth created, by each worker in that company was about £10,000: more than twice the average wage.

The talk of democratic rights in Britain means little more than that we delicately forge for ourselves the very chains that bind us. Thousands of old people every winter in Britain have the democratic right to die of hypothermia because they cannot afford to both eat and keep warm: millions of workers have been democratically ordered to stop producing useful things because those who own the productive machinery are experiencing one of their periodic slumps in profit . . . And there is no democracy involved in the terror of war which now confronts the world as a result of competition over the world market. There is nothing democratic about the Home Office Circular No. ES 8/1976 (released under Labour and endorsed by the Conservatives) on the aftermath of a nuclear war:
District and borough London controllers should assume that one of the priority tasks for their staff . . . would be to collect and cremate or inter human remains in mass graves . . . there would still be a problem of several weeks, and perhaps months, of an above average rate of dying from disease and radiation effects. Nevertheless, a return to the pre-attack formalities should be the objective in the longer term.
And yet it is those very “pre-attack formalities”, the nature of the present social order, which would have been responsible for such a nuclear war in the first place.

Market magic?
What, then, is the sanity praised by defenders of the global profit system? Adam Smith’s magical “invisible hand” of market forces is now somewhat different from what it was in the eighteenth century. Markets today are no longer small, local, or self-contained but international. The buying and selling system has come to dominate the entire world over the past two hundred years. However it is reformed or modified, from the Kremlin to the White House, the market cannot be made to serve real human interests, the needs of humanity as a whole. The only demand which the profit system can ever recognise is that which is backed up by cash. That is why 30 million people starved to death last year, the equivalent of one Hiroshima every other day, one casualty a second, even though the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has shown that the world’s resources, if properly developed, could feed three times the world’s population.

The capitalist slogan is profit before the needs of the majority. In Britain 3,000 people die every year because they lack a kidney machine costing a few thousand pounds, while over £1.9 million is spent every hour on armaments to defend British markets. In a market society, workers themselves are produced as mere value-generating objects. The Which Book of Money calculates that a child costs £32,000 to produce and look after to the age of 18, taking account of the mother’s loss of earnings. Capitalism has to put price-tags on people, from new-born babies to the cards in the windows of employment agencies, selling lives of creative work for a few thousand pounds a year. All human relationships are transformed into exchange transactions, with varying degrees of subtlety. The Schools Council’s latest (and last) report says children in schools are “like shoes or bits of metal, which are inspected at the end of the production line and sometimes rejected as substandard”. The only exception to this is the public schools, so-called because they are private, where most of the products are labelled “success” however stupid they might be. This is because those schools cater for a useless parasite class who have no part in production or distribution except to obstruct it through class ownership.

No amount of political waffle or rhetoric from those who seek to conserve this chaos can hide the real level of discontent which exists in society. The suicide rate in Britain has now increased to 5,000 each year, and is still rising. This indicates only the tip of the iceberg of intense social misery. The religion of nationalism, racism and conservatism, is irrelevant to the millions of workers who are concerned to eradicate that misery through political and social action.

What do socialists want? We want the working class to put the wealth of society, and the machinery for producing that wealth, in the hands of society as a whole. This is the practical alternative to the market system which currently exists throughout the world. Where people are in need of housing, socialist society will re-organise resources to build houses — not for sale and profit but for use. “Insane!" scream the conservatives who defend the capital of the minority. But look at the present “sanity”: human needs are no less now than they were in the sixties, and yet there has been a massive reduction in the production levels of most major industries, in response to the dictates of profit and the market.

There is only one alternative to the fatal destructiveness of competition, and that is the creativeness of co-operation. The establishment of a system of production solely to satisfy human needs across the globe, rather than for profitable sales in the world market, is more urgently needed than ever. Democratic control of society will be the culmination of a long history of class conflict and will be able to resolve all the contradictions which arise out of the class division in society. It is in the interests of workers everywhere to dismiss the complacent. flippant cries of panic coming from those who are either rich enough or, more likely, sick enough, to want to conserve a “civilisation” founded on poverty, violence and war. The profit system can only offer us prolonged frustration, interrupted by the occasional hysteria of mass slaughter, when wars are fought over the spoils of international capital.

Common ownership of the world’s resources will represent the most compelling and exciting step humanity has taken. To hold back that step is to invite the trade cycle to dominate our lives, imposing its alien forces and needs on the daily lives of the entire population. When you next hear somebody trying to defend the profit system, remember the theory of M. Groddeck, quoted at the beginning of this article, about a new form of insanity. Because when you hear the political rhetoric which praises the magic of market forces, with all references to the starvation and destruction which are produced by those forces neatly edited out, you might just feel tempted to contract the disease of democracy and to stand for the sane alternative.
Clifford Slapper

SPGB Meetings (1984)

Party News from the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
A recording of the SPGB's Birmingham Branch's meeting on 'Terrorism' (speaker: Christine Moss) is available at the following link.

"Subscribe!" (1984)

SPGB Advert from the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thoughts on Climate Change (2022)

From the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few days ago, I saw a drift of Cardamine pratensis by the roadside – not pink, not violet, but an indescribable blend of them both. Known to most, and first named when our relationship with plants was much closer, as the Cuckoo flower or Lady’s smock, these flowers have never grown there before; certainly the species can be found at the same roadside location each April, but not the same flowers. Each year, new flowers appear, equally beautiful and equally fresh.

Beauty, particularly the beauty of nature, so valuable to us all and yet with no actual monetary value, is transient. Beauty, a universal feature of our natural surroundings, is disappearing gradually and inexorably. Climate breakdown caused by human activity is now a major cause of species and habitat loss. However, climate breakdown (or change) is not the only, or indeed primary, factor leading to the destruction of our environment; it is, rather, a symptom of our means of organising world society – a symptom that sits alongside pollution, warfare, homelessness, poverty and many other inexorable outcomes of a society based on profit and endless growth. We are, in fact, a species at war with ourselves and the very necessities of life itself. This is a needless war, as the system that gives rise to such outcomes can be changed; it only requires individuals to believe that it is not working and to want to change it.

I hope that, if you have read this far, you will not see these words as a pointless ‘rant’ or feel that by writing these thoughts I am in any way suggesting that the opinions you hold about climate change or the causes of climate change are invalid or wrong. I am, however, hoping that you will agree that the existing manner in which we organise society does not work and is dramatically failing to protect both us as humans and the species with which we share the planet – the only planet available to us. Yes, this is a political problem and politics is a difficult subject, but for a moment imagine that all the political parties, groups and ideas that we know were gone; there was no ‘right’ or ‘left’ but instead a new order of things that put nature and people first. No economy, simply the careful and considered organisation of the world’s resources to the mutual benefit of all. Would this not be welcomed? In my opinion, ‘left’ and ‘right’ political thinking suggests a wall at which you can only turn one way or the other, and at which there is no escape from the system – one which still puts the economy first. I want to get over the wall, look at all the wonderful things the human race can do, put beauty first and allow our children to look back with thanks that we chose a new path into the future.

It is not helpful to focus blame for climate change (or indeed all the other ills of society) on each other or individuals; yes, as individuals it is mutually beneficial to play our part, but no amount of reforms, charities or tweaking will curtail the trajectories we are experiencing. Change is needed – world change – and change is frightening, but is it more frightening than the alternative?
Glenn Morris

Proper Gander: Hack To The Future (2022)

The Proper Gander Column from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A thread which runs through the work of film-maker Peter Kosminsky is exploring how people relate to ideologies which defend power structures. For example, his 2017 drama The State described the journeys of extremist British Muslims joining ‘Islamic State’ in Syria, while his latest series The Undeclared War (Channel 4) takes a different angle by examining how cyber-warfare is used to drive political agendas.

The drama is a high-tech take on the Cold War thriller genre, set in 2024 when a cyber-war between the UK and Russian governments is escalating. The lead character is Saara, a student on work experience at GCHQ who discovers what her colleagues miss when fighting on the cyber-front against the Russian state’s hackers and opinion-makers. Much of the plot relies on characters staring at rows of code on computer screens, which is livened up by being represented as Saara searching through dreamlike tunnels and rooms. Otherwise, the script goes for verisimilitude, unusually referring to many real organisations, not only GCHQ and its Russian counterpart the Federal Security Service (FSB), but also the BBC, Twitter, BT’s Openreach, Swift and the main political parties.

It’s one of those dramas set in under-lit rooms with tense conversations underlined by sombre music, but it’s convincingly acted, carefully structured and grounded in research into cyber-warfare. The fictionalised activities of GCHQ, the FSB and their associates are based on what’s been reported in the real world, and given some dramatic licence by the near-future setting. While The Undeclared War’s plot is driven by hacks and counter-hacks into the Russian and British state’s infrastructure, along the way we see strategies used by Russia’s authorities which aim to mould people’s views and behaviour. The result is an uneasy reminder that events and how they are reported can be manipulated to suit the narrative of power-hungry states. Ironically, this feeling of doubt about what’s real is mentioned in the drama as part of what the Russian government wants to encourage.

With social media being a conduit for many people’s interpretations of events, it’s also an opportunity to shape perceptions. Two of the drama’s main characters meet when working at the Glavset ‘troll farm’ in Russia, sending at least 80 tweets a day, chipping in to chats about British politics to stir up trouble. These places do exist, and not just in Russia. In 2017, Freedom House (a think tank funded by the US government) found that 30 states worldwide hired people to ‘spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics’ on social media ( As anyone who uses Twitter will recognise, its discussions can be easily derailed by crass or provocative comments of the kind knowingly spread by troll farms.

How television is used to push a particular agenda is shown in the drama through the activities of Russia Global News (RGN), with a studio in London and reporters in the open. This isn’t a real TV channel, and if it were, it wouldn’t be allowed to operate in that way during a cyber-war, given that its closest real-life counterpart, RT UK, had its licence withdrawn by Ofcom following the invasion of Ukraine. One of RGN’s staff makes the fair point that criticisms that it’s a ‘propaganda mouthpiece’ are hypocritical when they come from journalists told what to say by the media corporations which employ them. RGN’s broadcasts aren’t obviously pro-Russian, but convey their message through more devious tactics. Its back-office staff set up two bogus Facebook groups (the lefty ‘Luton For Labour’ and fascist ‘Take Back Control Of Luton’), wait for people to join and then post details of a demo at the same time and place on both groups’ pages. RGN’s reporter and camera crew turn up and record the subsequent violence when far-right numbskulls meet leftist demonstrators. This plot-point has a reportedly actual precedent. In his 2016 documentary Hypernormalisation, Adam Curtis described how pro-Russian state ‘Political Technologists’ sponsored fascist groups, anti-fascist groups and parties opposed to Putin, then let it be known that this had happened so no-one could tell how real those organisations were. As one of RGN’s staff explains, the point isn’t that their news is false, ‘the point is to get people used to the idea that everything’s a lie, that there is no truth. And once they accept that, well, biggest liar wins’.

The Undeclared War is set around a future general election, another target for the Russian state’s FSB. Databases are hacked, distorting exit poll results reported by the BBC and taking people from ethnic minorities likely to vote Labour off the electoral register. RGN reports this as pro-Tory election-rigging, and fakes footage of an ensuing riot in order to spread unrest. These scenes hopefully aren’t based on actual occurrences, although there’s evidence that the Russian state has interfered with US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum, and that the US state has a long history of intervening in other countries’ elections.

Cyber-warfare as described in The Undeclared War is as much about psychology as it is about technology. The script refers to the strategy of ‘reflexive control’: manipulating an enemy’s behaviour, in this case to promote the interests of the Russian state. This approach isn’t new, but it finds new applications as technology develops. In the drama, this is shown as attempts to influence the responses to hacks and to create interpretations through TV broadcasts and social media. The Undeclared War is set in the future, but much of what it depicts is already here.
Mike Foster

More and More (2022)

Book Review from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

More: the 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy. By Philip Coggan. The Economist Books £10.99.

This book contains a great deal of useful factual and statistical material on the development of human society, from hunter–gatherers to the present day, from the origins of agriculture via big increases in productivity to the 2007–08 financial crash. Chapters dealing with chronological periods alternate with those covering specific topics, such as energy and transport. Here we will focus on some of the themes and the main points made.

Coggan is quite open about the role of the state in defending and assisting capitalism. Some level of law and order is needed for businesses to operate, and also the government provides education and various kinds of infrastructure required by capitalism. Britain has never been completely laissez-faire, and more generally the Great Depression of the 1930s led to much greater state involvement in the economy. Many industries have been protected from competition from abroad, and long-term research without short-term payoffs is unlikely to be funded by private companies.

Another theme is the global interconnectedness of production. Cross-border trade involves over half of what the world produces; around ninety percent of this is carried by ship, as can be seen at massive container ports such as Felixstowe and Singapore. Everyday products such as toothpaste contain sizeable numbers of ingredients, which need to be combined in a factory, put in a tube and package and transported to a wholesale warehouse and then to a shop. ‘No man is an economic island.’

Coggan makes no bones about the impact of the slave trade, describing it as ‘the industrialisation of brutality’. He quotes another writer: ‘The African countries that are the poorest today are the ones from which the most slaves were taken.’ More generally, the European conquest of the Americas ‘had a catastrophic impact on the indigenous population’, with perhaps ninety percent of the inhabitants of Mexico being killed, whether by imported diseases or warfare.

In answer to why Karl Marx’s predictions of revolution did not come true by the late nineteenth century, Coggan refers to the benefits of industrialisation being ‘sufficiently apparent’ by then. Marx was indeed over-optimistic, but surveys of workers’ lives in London and York around that time, by Booth and Rowntree, showed that about forty percent could barely keep their heads above water.

The author sometimes puts the word capitalism in quotation marks, on the grounds that it tends to be used in a slippery way, though he does not exemplify this. Yet it does not stop him using communism (without quotation marks) to describe the former system in Russia, which is not slippery, just wrong. And when he writes that ‘If anyone needed a post-Soviet illustration of the failings of Socialist economics, Venezuela was it’, he just shows that he knows nothing about Socialism. He does, however, describe the current system in China as ‘authoritarian capitalism’.

Sadly, the William Morris listed in the index is the owner of a car factory and supporter of Oswald Mosley, not the revolutionary author and designer.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Mind in a cul-de-sac: Laing (2022)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

If one considers the family in its genealogical image as a tree, today lumberjacks are out. The tree, by various allegations, is blighted and corrupt, the leaves malnourished while society still praises its luxuriance. In the nineteen-fifties Dr. Kinsey showed statistically that monogamy was a stale pretence; in the ‘seventies Women’s Liberation proclaims it to be a cage. The most trenchant attacks on the family, however, have come from the psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Laing. In a series of writings on the condition of schizophrenia, Laing has shown family groups as circles bent on mental violence, selecting this and that member as victims for destruction. Only the mad are sane, says Laing.

A psychiatric theory may not, in itself, be thought to matter much outside the world of attempted therapy where—as with more palpable physical disorders—¬the patients are patched to be sent back to the environment where their troubles grew. But Laing’s has been popularised as material for social and political dissenters. Contributing to the New Left Review, Peace News and New Society automatically connected him with the cultural Left; in 1967 he was one of the speakers in the “Dialectics of Liberation” seminar at the Round House, London, with Marcuse, Stokely Carmichael and others. The film Family Life is a representation of his view of everyday relationships: an onslaught against the stupidity, unfairness and general motivation of the conventional and a vindication of the young dubbed insane, with the implication that the latter had better run from the former as fast as they can.

It is also a representation of the nature of Laing’s popularity. The appearance of cheap editions of his books coincided with the emergence of the “underground”, the movement for dropping-out and psychedelia. (…)

In the 1965 preface to an earlier work, The Divided Self, Laing speaks of his theories as condemning not only family relationships but the social order at large, because it “represses not only ‘the instincts’, not only sexuality, but any form of transcendence”. The preface was withdrawn from the 1970 edition, and he is now reported to have retreated into mysticism.

(Socialist Standard, August 1972)

Editorial: Politicians fiddling with climate change (2022)

Editorial from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month, for anyone broiling in the record-breaking temperatures of western Europe’s furious heatwave, or smelling the wood smoke from unprecedented wild fires in east and south London, the question of who was going to be the next Tory leader and UK Prime Minister could not have risen far up their political thermometer. As the temperature tipped 40°C, road surfaces warped, rail tracks buckled, and power went down in parts of England, London Fire Brigade was obliged to declare a major incident with fields, forests and buildings on fire. It wasn’t just hot weather for all though, because when the poor can’t stand the heat, they generally don’t have the option of getting out of the kitchen, literally so for underpaid catering workers, but figuratively too for poor inner-city residents who tend to suffer even worse extremes due to the well-known urban heat island effect.

Indeed, if they thought about the Tory leadership contest at all, they must have seen it as an irrelevant sideshow at best, and at worst, a bunch of Nero impersonators fiddling while Rome burned. For climate change scarcely rated a mention in the proceedings and instead all leadership contenders identified the issue of cutting taxes as the one most likely to motivate the venal Tory membership, while incidentally calling each other ‘socialist’ (big joke), all that is apart from one contender who, mystifyingly, seemed to think an anti-woke agenda was the most pressing political issue of the modern era.

Although posterity has justifiably branded the original Nero as one of the worst emperors ever, no small achievement given how many of them were corrupt, incompetent, megalomaniac or outright insane, in fairness he almost certainly didn’t start the Great Fire, and wasn’t even in Rome at the time, but did hurry back immediately to direct massive rescue efforts entirely out of his own pocket. But what is posterity going to make of all these modern Neros, who turn up to COP meetings only to mouth pious platitudes about ‘net zero by 2050’ which they know, and we know, they have no intention of sticking to? The 1.5°C ceiling has almost certainly been passed already, and the 2° limit is sure to follow, despite all the promises of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Devastating wild fires now rage seasonally in dozens of countries as a dramatic reminder of how little these petty emperors of capitalism have achieved.

And why have they achieved so little, you might ask? Are they corrupt, or incompetent, or possibly insane? If that were so, getting a different set of leaders would solve the problem. But the real truth is, they simply realise what socialists also realise, that to do anything serious about climate change, they would have to pull the plug on capitalism itself. And that’s something they can never admit, and never do, no matter how many cities spontaneously combust.