Friday, August 12, 2022

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1960)

From the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Capitalism throws up some unusual problem or, what is more often the case, a. new variation of an old problem, there are always plenty of sincere but misled people ready to throw their weight behind the movements that mushroom into being for the purpose of trying to deal with these phenomena in isolation from their cause. Failing to see the inter-connection and common origin of all the problems of Capitalism these people merrily waste their time and efforts tinkering with effects. One of the most plausible sounding of these movements is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. After all, the H-bomb is such a hideous and terrifying weapon that anyone who wants to ban it is sure of a fairly wide appeal

Nothing is more plausible than to see the H-bomb as an evil in isolation from everything else in society and set out to ban it as though it were a self-made monster without reference to the system which produces it.

Although we readily acknowledge the sincerity of people who support CND and understand their horror at the thought of nuclear war, there is no greater folly nor a more deadly danger than approaching the problem in this way.

The hydrogen bomb is the result of technical and scientific development within capitalism. Ban this weapon and keep this system with its world market and profit strategy, and science will still produce other such monsters. It must do so while science remains the servant of the capitalist class who pay for it. In fact, it is already common knowledge that other terror weapons exist. CND argue that time is short the way the world is today, so that the H-bomb must be treated as an immediate priority. If they mean this and mankind is really balanced on the edge of oblivion, then there certainly is not time to deal with all existing and all possible horror weapons one at a time as they come up. The stark reality they must face is that to deal with capitalism is the immediate priority.

Is the CND prepared to switch the attack, get down to causes, and deal with capitalism? Alas, the very nature of the movement precludes this. Their membership is drawn from all shades of political and religious opinion. They may think this their strength, but in fact it is their most fatal weakness.

An organisation with such a widely mixed membership can agree on one thing only—the demand for nuclear disarmament. In fact, this is all they are required to agree upon. Outside of this they are just as “British-and proud of it” as any other supporter of Capitalism. They have the same nationalistic prejudice as other non-socialists. They uphold the same basic features of capitalism, wages, profits, trading and competitions for export markets, as the rest of the misled working-class. The sad truth is that the CND member is as surprised to learn and as reluctant to accept that the conflicts within capitalism give rise to war as any other workers.

Workers who vote Labour, Conservative, or so-called Communist have made their major blunder at the ballot box. They have voted capitalist politicians the power to maintain capitalism. They have given them the power to build armaments to maintain capitalist interests. To do this and then to march, demonstrate and protest at the effects of their own action presents rather a bewildering spectacle to say the least. After the elections, the capitalist class know that they can count on the overwhelming majority of the electorate for support in war preparation by appeals to patriotism and by posing as the champions of peace. Which all sides do.

To properly understand the arms race it must be seen as something complementary to the struggle for markets, oil and trade-routes. Not as a determined struggle between national leaders over their ideals or national ways of life. The only “way of life,” so far as the competing nations are concerned, is the capitalist way. The details of administration vary amongst the countries in both the great-power blocks, but their aims and methods of achievement are the same. It is not different ideals that set them at each other's throats; it is the scramble for resources and trade. In as much as the struggle for markets in pursuit of profit is fundamental to the capitalist scheme of things, so the conditions of conflict and war are all part of this system.

The production of armaments is a priority commitment of industry and resources for all major powers, both for their own use and that of their junior partners. To a tremendous extent since the end of the last war, world industry has been devoted to the production of means of destruction. Thousands of millions of pounds, dollars and roubles, etc., representing colossal amounts of materials and labour-time have been poured into the world war machines. The louder the competing States have voiced their peaceful intentions, the more and more murderous have become their inventions. Weapons have been developed and scrapped. Weapons have brought forth counter weapons and counter-counter weapons in the frenzy to make us feel secure. Great hopes are pinned on summit conferences, negotiations and mass demonstrations as the working class desperately looks for a way out of the capitalists’ nightmare.

To campaign for nuclear disarmament implies acceptance of so-called conventional armaments. The Socialist Party rejects this most dangerous attitude. We are often accused of taking an ivory-tower view of things that go on in the world from day to day. This accusation is made by people who do not understand what Socialism entails. Ours is a class attitude to capitalism in general and to war in particular.

We take the view that workers of all lands have fundamentally common interests. Workers own nothing of the vast vested interests of capitalism and have nothing to fight for since no working-class issue is involved in its thieves’ quarrels. This international Socialist outlook has kept us firmly in opposition to two world wars. We stick to our path not out of sectarian cussedness, but because the evidence shows it to be correct.
Harry Baldwin

Luncheon Vouchers (1960)

From the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

L.V.—this is the symbol which can be seen in the windows of many cafes, tea shops, snack bars and restaurants. It indicates that luncheon vouchers are accepted. The symbol has also cropped up in a recent advertisement, which shows a man sitting at a meal with, on his back, the words, “To work well he must eat well . . . regularly at lunch-time with L.V.” The advertisement also tells us that thousands of employers have arranged this nation-wide welfare service for the benefit of their workers. But is this all there is to say on the matter?

Many employers, when advertising vacancies, include the vouchers in the list of advantages extended to the lucky applicant. And workers fall for it: many of them, when bragging about having “an easy job,” remark that, along with the five day week, holidays with pay and sickness on full pay, they also receive luncheon vouchers. How nice, to think that employers are taking such an interest in the health and strength of their workers and are not leaving this vital matter to look after itself! Just fancy, instead of having to last the day on a ham sandwich or a bun and cuppa, our worker has his luncheon voucher and a whole hour in which he can eat to his heart's content. Every day, from Monday to Friday, our lucky working lads and lasses can wine and dine at the . . . at the . . . well, wherever they can get something for a two or three shilling voucher. We can be certain that, however they may “eat well,” the nurtured workers will not return to the job so full of lunch-time fare that they are too burdened to “work well.” Neverthelesss, these “better-off” workers are always grateful for small mercies, free meal tickets and all, and so skipping back to work, merrily they go.

Of course, Socialists will spoil it all by pointing out that the employer, instead of including the value of a week’s luncheon vouchers in his worker’s pay packets, merely gives out the same amount in the form of food tokens. And often uses this as an argument when resisting wage increases. The worker thinks he is being treated to lunch, instead of looking upon it as part of “the treatment.”

The question is why does the lunch on voucher amount to about three shillings instead of say, twenty-three? Simply because a worker's lunch can be bought for just about three shillings. In the same way, the total sum of all the purchases and expenses which a worker must make in order to live determines the total amount of his wages. He does not receive an unregulated sum which the employer hands out as a reward for being honest or hardworking or responsible. He gets roughly what it costs to maintain himself and his dependents.

But to return to our advertisement. We notice that its appeal is only to the employer and that it does not say “you (employer) must” but that “he (worker) must.” Is, then, both the eating and the working of the working class at the mercy of their masters? For example, if the workers cannot find an employer to buy their energies, there can be no work and very little eating. Our advertisement would not apply. Even to be allowed to work means that, to hold down their jobs, the workers must work well, try as some of them might to dodge it when the manager is out of sight. In fact, how well they work can be realised by a glance at any City Editor’s column. See there the facts and figures of the company reports, of the amazing profits which are made by the workers. Read, at the end of each chairman's chronicle, the compliments to the staff for working so well throughout the year.

And why only eat and work well? If, besides that, we were all to house and clothe well and to have everything else which we need, then all would be well, except for profits which would be so ill that they would die. It is inherent in the system of commodity production that the worker’s wages never tally with what he produces. The capitalist class, who own the factories, machinery and their produce, employ workers at the price of their wage. Workers are taken on to produce both enough to cover their wage and a surplus, which the capitalist commandeers. If the worker received as much as he produced, then his employer would not be able to dictate whether he should eat well or not; that would be his own responsibility.

To get rid of this exploitation, we must have a world in which food and all other wealth is produced simply to be used. A world in which all mankind has complete freedom of access to the world’s wealth, to satisfy its needs. It is the system of working for wages— whether or not they come partly as luncheon vouchers—which prevents the mass of people enjoying the full freedom and happiness which modern productive techniques can command. We need a world which works well for itself, to eat well—to live well
Joe McGuinness

Profit and Fraud (1960)

From the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently, the New Zealand Government bought from a firm in England thirteen brand new jet bombers. When being serviced, it was discovered that they had second hand engines. The New Zealand Government have naturally complained and at the time of writing, the matter is sub-judice. (The Times, 2/7/60). What is obvious is that the profit motive spares no one if the chance is there of obtaining as much as possible for as little as possible—a gibe usually thrown at the workers when they ask for increases.

The writer, many years ago, was familiar with a dairy manager who was employed by a large dairy company. One of his duties was to remove the labels from foreign honey and replace it with labels boldly stating the honey to be Pure English. This, of course, increased its value and up went the profits. Another instance was similar, but this time in a factory where a workman was given the task of removing the imprint “Made in France" and overprinting “Made in England." It is not surprising that the employer of this concern rides in a Rolls Royce.

A more recent incident of fraud was a builder who introduced himself as a Church Sidesman, but it made no difference. An unexpected Sunday visit to the work he was doing, and a difficult climb on to the roof, revealed that faulty roof timber which was scheduled to be renewed had been covered with plasterboard and that new window frames were the old ones covered with a coat of paint. It is said that all’s fair in love and war. Capitalism should join them and make a trinity. The common acceptance at being caught actually crystallizes the relation between buyer and seller in this pernicious system and should have no defence. Alas, the essence of fraud which is bound up in the present system is no bar to fame. Just witness the applause of the press and radio to those who have made the climb to the top.

Hasten the day when the workers realize that, by abolishing the money system with its profit basis and by producing for the needs of man through the possession of the tools and resources by common ownership, there will be no second or third quality; no markets to steal by war or stealth. What a world there is for the making, where the joy of a truly social relationship of man to man could develop. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is in existence to bring this about. Come and join us. There is no other way to eliminate the injustices inherent in the present system known as capitalism.
G. B.

More Follies (1960)

From the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Ah, woe is me,” exclaims Ophelia, appalled at Hamlet’s apparent madness. What cries of woe are we today then to raise at the folly and madness of modern capitalism. At least it could be said of Hamlet’s madness that it was an “antic disposition,” put on all the better to mislead those around him. But what are we to say of the world around us which reverses the situation exactly. Every elaborate method and device is used to assure us that the present money-and profit-making society is the sanest possible way of life and that any suggestions to the contrary are sheer lunacy. All the more reason for the Socialist to persist in his condemnation of capitalism as an utterly crazy and insane system.

Take, for example, the “artichoke war” in France. Apparently this summer has seen in Britanny a record crop of this vegetable. Instead of everybody jumping with delight at this welcome bounty of nature, the growers and sellers are very perturbed and about 7,000 tons (calculated to represent 15 million artichokes) have been allowed to rot. The reason? The price offered to the growers was so low that most of them refused to sell out for a loss. To make sure the price was not further depressed, they have been driving them to disused quarries after trying unsuccessfully to sell them on the markets, and have then sprayed them with diesel oil to prevent the public getting completely free artichokes. Times, (29/6/60).

Under Socialism, of course, we would use artichokes for eating and diesel oil for running diesel engines. What a commentary it is on our present system that in France they use the one to destroy the other.

An interesting sidelight to the above affair is contained in the Times of 2/7/60. Here we find that the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations is launching an international campaign to promote a better understanding of the problem of providing enough food for the present and future population of the world. Our aim, says Mr. Sen, the Director-General, is to increase public and government awareness of the extent and cause of hunger and malnutrition. Perhaps Mr. Sen could begin his crusade of enlightenment by explaining to us why the aforementioned artichokes (not to speak of the millions of bushels of stored-up wheat in U.S. granaries) are not distributed to those in need of them. Elsewhere, Mr. Sen tells us that “hunger is seldom the result of nature’s harshness; it is often the result of ignorance and human failure.” Very true. Ignorance that the primary purpose of capitalist production is the making of profit and not the satisfaction of human needs, and human failure (including Mr. Sen’s) to replace it with a productive system concerned only with satisfying these needs.
Max Judd

From the Branches (1960)

Party News from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many years ago there was a branch of the Party in Wembley, which transferred to Chiswick and later became the Ealing Branch. Now a new Wembley Branch has been formed. It meets every Monday at 8 p.m. at Barham Old Court, Barham Park, Harrow Road, Wembley—near Sudbury Town Station (Piccadilly Line) and Wembley Central (Bakerloo Line and B.R.), buses 18, 92 and trolleybus 662 pass the door. Sympathisers in the area are invited to contact the Branch Secretary: R. Cain, 48, Balfour Road, W.13.

* * *

Ealing Branch continues to meet as usual except that, there will be no meeting on August 5th. Hackney Branch has arranged a lecture on “Nuclear Disarmament” at Bethnal Green Town Hall on Wednesday, August 10th.

* * *

There will be no Bloomsbury meetings during August as their venue, Conway Hall, is closed for the month. Bloomsbury will hold its next meeting on Thursday, 1st September, at 8 p.m., in the North Room, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, W.C.1, and from then onwards every first and third Thursday in each month. As is the custom in all Socialist Party meetings, visitors are especially welcome.

* * *

Many outdoor meetings are being regularly organised by London and Provincial Branches. A great amount of work is put into these meetings to make them a success, and the support of Party members is essential to complete the good work. A list of meetings is given on page 14. Please note your local meeting and assist the speakers to make our propaganda widely known.
Phyllis Howard

The Passing Show: The Truth about the Arandora Star (1960)

The Passing Show Column from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Truth about the Arandora Star

What a low opinion our rulers have of us! As the Second World War recedes into history, they tell us openly of the lies they fed us on during the war. Yet, no doubt, they expect us to believe implicitly anything they tell us in any future war. To disbelieve what the ruling class says in time of war ranks, in fact, as sedition.

Sometimes it is the same organ of ruling class propaganda which helped to tell us the lie in the first place which now coolly lets us know what did really happen. For example, the case of the Arandora Star. This was a liner which had been converted into a prison ship to take German and Italian internees, prisoners-of-war, and anyone else who in ruling class terminology was “an alien” across to interment camps in Canada. On one of these voyages, in July, 1940, the Arandora Star was sunk by a U-boat. Of the 1,600 prisoners and crew, half were drowned. Many of us remember what we were told at that time—the high death-roll was due to panic among “the aliens,” the lifeboats were rushed, it was every man for himself, and so on. If you have forgotten, the Sunday Express (19/6/60) obligingly reprints the headlines which appeared at the time in its sister paper, the Daily Express of the 4th July, 1940. “ 1,500 aliens panic,” the Daily Express told its readers: “Germans torpedo Germans—mad rush for the lifeboats.”

Complete nonsense
Why does the Sunday Express remind us of these (in its own words) “officially-blessed reports that the heavy loss of life was due to the panic-stricken cowardice of Germans and Italians who fought madly for priority in the lifeboats ”? Why, in order to tell us that they were all lies! The article goes on: “All of a picked group of recently interviewed survivors are unanimous in dismissing this allegation as complete nonsense.”

The real reasons for the heavy loss of life among the great majority who survived the explosion, despite the fact that the sea was calm and the visibility excellent, were three. The ship was grossly overcrowded; some even of the inadequate number of lifeboats had had oars, emergency provisions and plugs removed; and, above all, barbed wire had been expertly erected on the decks, cutting off access to what seaworthy lifeboats there were.

Magnificent propaganda
The captain of the Arandora Star protested strongly to the Admiralty against the ship going to sea in this condition. He pointed out that the lives not only of the internees, but also of his crew, might depend on—for example— the barbed wire being removed. But such humanitarian considerations did not move the chiefs of the Admiralty. The captain's protests were rejected, and the ship sailed as it was. It sank with many of its passengers, who were prevented by the barbed wire from getting to the lifeboats or even from jumping over the side, still on board. And the resultant death by drowning of eight hundred human beings was ascribed by the British authorities (who knew the truth themselves) to “panic among aliens.”

But don't suppose that the Sunday Express disapproves of this lie told by the ruling class. On the contrary, it points out what “magnificent propaganda” the truth would have made for the Axis powers. So, clearly, one only tells the truth when it won't put one at a disadvantage. The lies about the Arandora Star were told by those who claim to uphold the current politico-moral beliefs of society, including the conception of Truth as an Absolute. One could at least credit the ruling class with sincerity if it acted or the beliefs it professed to hold.

Love, honour and obey

While some apologists for capitalism attempt to explain away what they consider the less justifiable parts of our political and social superstructure, there are always the fundamentalists who embarrass these good souls by taking up an extreme dogmatic position. The promise of the wife in the Church's marriage service to “love, honour and obey” her husband is a case in point. We are told in some quarters that this “obey” clause isn’t as brutally primitive as it sounds—it is merely figurative, metaphorical and so forth. But there are others, including the two clergymen who wrote to the Guardian on June 11th, who defend it to the hilt. According to these gentlemen, in a Christian marriage, if there is any disagreement the wife must obey her husband. As a commentary on Christian marriage, these contributions may be allowed to speak for themselves.


At the recent wedding of Mussolini’s daughter, a message of congratulations was received from the Pope. The Catholic Church has always tried to explain away its sympathy for Fascism in Italy—although this is particularly difficult in view of its present close relations with and support for Fascism in Spain. No doubt Catholics would say that this was simply a gesture made by the Pope towards a member of his Church, without any political or social significance. But how many Catholic girls, who are not the daughters of rich men or Fascist leaders, get a telegram of congratulations from the Pope when they marry?
Alwyn Edgar

Workers’ Blood and Capitalist Profit (1939)

From the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The spectre of another World War is haunting Europe—war bringing unimaginable horrors which will fall chiefly on the working class.

Bitterly recognising its limitations, yet confident of ultimate success in its appeal to the reason of the great mass of workers, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, as in 1914, sets out its attitude to the threatened war.

The lessons of 1914 have so far been but faintly grasped by the worker. The meanness of the governing clique, their low intrigues against each other, the incompetence of brass hats and their furious jealousies, have been told in a vast and ever-increasing number of war volumes; there is some satisfaction that these people are so ready to give each other away; the amazing thing is how little of this seeps into the minds of the worker.

Let us call Lloyd George to the witness stand —a cunning politician, but author, nevertheless, of a brilliant piece of journalism, “War Memoirs." Insist upon your public library getting copies, and at least read references indicated hereafter (numbers refer to pages in the cheaper edition; after page 1067, Volume 2). Mr. Lloyd George deserves the thanks of the governing clique of Britain, at any rate; his “apology" leaves little doubt in the mind of the reader that he staved off disaster for the class he served.

The recounting of the feeble folly of the Greys and Asquiths comes as no surprise to a moderately- informed student of history; the low intrigues and bitter personal animosities of politicians run through all written history.

The mentality of the class which viewed the common soldier as so much “cannon-fodder" is revealed on page 115: “Kitchener stalked into the Cabinet with his most military stride . . . he exclaimed in husky tones, charged with suppressed emotion, 'Oh, it is terrible—terrible!' 'Were the casualties very heavy ?' we enquired anxiously. 'I’m not thinking about the casualties,' replied Kitchener, ‘but for all the shells that were wasted.' "

The tale of Haig’s incompetence is probably incredible to those whose knowledge of British military history is limited to highly coloured accounts of the few geniuses this country has produced in the killing line; read the whole of Chapter 73 for the tragedy of Passchendaele.

What were the factors which led to this nightmare, when thousands of soldiers perished, choked to death in a bog of blood and mud, a bog which Haig never took the trouble to visit? “No general in the War was expected to visit No Man’s Land until the battleground had been made safe for Brass Hats "(1322). The chief factor was Haig’s determination to score a personal victory by “smashing through"; to this end, the Cabinet was deliberately deceived as to the real state of affairs, downright cheating was resorted to in at least one case, when selected German prisoners were shown to Lloyd George (1316).

A long quotation is justified here; Lloyd George quotes Liddell Hart (1308): “A highly-placed officer was on his first visit to the battle front—at the end of the four months' battle. Growing increasingly uneasy as the car approached the swamp-like edges of the battle area, he eventually burst into tears, crying, 'Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?’ To which his companion replied that the ground was far worse ahead."

Great fun, Old Bill, wasn’t it? Who will be the funny cartoonist to grin through the hollow eye of death in the next war ?

To continue the quotation: 
“Artillery became bogged, tanks stuck in the mire, unwounded men by the hundreds, and wounded men by the thousands, sank beyond recovery into the filth. It is a comment upon the intelligence with which the whole plan had been conceived that, after the ridge had been reached, it was essential part of the plan that masses of cavalry were intended to thunder across this impassable bog to complete the rout of a fleeing enemy. For months, hundreds of thousands of British troops fought through this slough. They sheltered and they slept in mud-holes; when they squelched along, they were shot down into the slush; if wounded, they were drowned in the slime: but the survivors still crept and dragged onward for four months from shell-hole to shell-hole, with their rifles and machine-guns choked with Flemish ooze; it was a tragedy of heroic endurance, and the British Press rang with praises of the ruthless courage of the Commander-in-Chief! It was not the fault of the newspapers. The truth was carefully eliminated from Press dispatches; there was a relentless and clever censorship exercised.”
"Your” Country!!
A word here on those who have a real, solid stake, in the shape of land, which can well enable them to claim that they have a "country.” On page 784, a significant sidelight is thrown on what Lloyd George calls the "Strike of the Junkers.” Imminent stark starvation (chronic under-nourishment is, of course, the normal lot of a huge number of working-class men, women and children), due to submarine warfare chiefly, threatened the country; powers were accorded to local authorities to use private property in land for growing food; our patriotic landowners grumbled, "the grumbling became a growl, and at last a snarl with bared teeth.” One landowner (why no name, Mister George?) interviewed our author. He was "scarlet with fury,” and announced his intention of refusing to comply with the law.

To resume Passchendaele. Among several letters to the author quoted, the following are worthy of note:
Ex-Captain: "The generals responsible for prolonging the fight should have been shot.”
No general was even court-martialled; at the end of the War, fulsome adulation was ladled out to Haig, and (Lloyd George consenting, holding the gee-gee's bridle) £100,000 was voted by a grateful country to keep the wolf from his door and to facilitate his further ominous work in organising the reactionary British Legion, which has more than a distant resemblance to bands which were of signal service to Hitler and Mussolini. In connection with this grant, let it be remembered that Lloyd George telegraphed hearty congratulations to Haig after Passchendaele.

"An Old Contemptible” (1354) writes: 
"Passchendaele was an absolute crime, and if we have another war the same thing will happen again. I once passed a casual critical remark about Haig, and an officer who overheard me said, 'That's mutiny; I suppose you know you could be shot for that?' "
. . . You are invited by Liberal and Tory, by "Labour" and "Communist” (the loudest bagpipes of the squealing train) to be on the alert to "Fight Fascism,” to "Conserve Democracy." Pause to think, to think hard; it's your business, fellow worker.

The Enemy is Here. 
"Fascism" is a red herring, as "Poor little Belgium” was in 1914. Lloyd George puts an unerring finger on the real cause of war then, as it will be now if war comes. "Our international rivals were forging ahead at a great rate, and jeopardising our hold on the markets of the world" (21). All the good intentions in the world, well-meaning Dick Sheppards and peace-loving George Lansburys notwithstanding, the threat of war remains while capitalism, insatiate in its search for markets, persists.

And, once war is upon us, goodbye to civil "liberties," to relative freedom of speech—the "profiteer” will flourish; again the rule of police in civil life and the iron tyranny of Brass Hat and brutal Sergeant-Major in the army. Already ominous indications are not lacking. A twelve-year employee has been dismissed for refusing to take part in A.R.P. drills. (The Star, March 31st, 1939.)

Labour Leaders in the Last War.
The record of the Labour leaders during the last War makes one wonder which to marvel at most—the gullibility of the worker, or the brazen effrontery of the Labour Party. Both Asquith and Lloyd George found in these leaders pliant tools. G. N. Barnes (Pensions Minister) openly stated that he would resist pensions for disabled soldiers who had slipped through too big meshes of the medical net, and consequently proved unfit to fill a hero's grave.

"Workman's Cottage to Windsor Castle,” by the Right Hon. J. Hodge (full title on cover!); reveals the Labour leader at about its worst. It takes a strong stomach to read this blatant Labour leader's own account of the royal lick-spittling: "The Queen does look queenly; though a Queen she is a woman and a mother; just look at the children hanging on to their mother's skirt ” (page 184). There was "Labour trouble” at Liverpool: "My staff mixed with the strikers, giving stable tips, straight from the horse’s mouth, that all the shop stewards would be apprehended and prosecuted, or probably deported" (page 170). Winston Churchill will hardly be accused of being violently friendly to the working class. Hodge (page 175) scolds him for according a small bonus to engineers against his advice; he is scandalised that "the scavenger in every urban district got it, and” (crowning infamy) "retained it for many years after the War was over.”

Do you really think that the Labour leader would not run true to bias in another World War?

Let us repeat the message of the S.P.G.B. to workers in all lands in 1914. It stands to-day. Capitalism is essentially the same as it was in 1914. Read our pamphlet, "War and the Working Class” (2d.), where the full text of our message will be found on page 24: —
"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the OVERTHROW OF CAPITALISM and the TRIUMPH OF SOCIALISM.”

. . . Turn now to our “Declaration of Principles”—eight plain, straightforward statements of FACT, and expression of Policy.

It's your business!
Augustus Snellgrove

Letter: Should we Merge with the I.L.P.? (1939)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Southfields, S.W.18.

The Editorial Committee,
The Socialist Standard.

Dear Comrades,

I have read with interest your reply to J.T.R. (Carlisle), setting forth the obvious reasons why the S.P.G.B. does not affiliate to the Labour Party. The same reasons caused the I.L.P. to break with the Labour Party.

I should be interested to know why the S.P.G.B. does not take a stand with the I.L.P., since the objects and methods of both parties are practically identical. The I.L.P. consistently maintains the correct Socialist attitude, to instance only the line adopted on the conscription issue, as well as the condemnation of so-called Popular Fronts.

Sincere Socialists are to be found, I admit, in several parties and groups which multiply and threaten to become ”seventy jarring sects”; yet the gravity of the present situation, coupled with the growing menaces of a capitalist dictatorship in this country, should, surely, provide grounds for the union of all true Socialists in a common front against Fascism, Imperialism and War.
Yours fraternally, 
E. G. L.

The arguments in favour of unity are always attractive, and never more so than in the present dangerous international situation, but organisational unity, to be effective, must be firmly based on unity of aim and method. Our correspondent maintains that “the objects and methods of both parties are practically identical,” and he gives several instances. One of them is that the reasons why the S.P.G.B. does not affiliate with the Labour Party are the same reasons which "caused the I.L.P. to break with the Labour Party.” This cannot be the case, because the I.L.P, is at the present time engaged on negotiations to resume affiliation with the Labour Party. True, the application is not unconditional, the I.L.P. laying down certain terms on which alone it will re-join, but the gulf which separates the objects of the S.P.G.B. and the Labour Party is such that there would be no possibility of bridging it. In brief, the aim of the Labour Party is not Socialism, but the reform of capitalism. If the I.L.P. can contemplate affiliation, that shows how far removed the I.L.P.'s outlook is from the S.P.G.B.'s.

No doubt the lessons of recent years have substantially changed the outlook of many members of the I.L.P., but much more remains to be done in that direction.
Editorial Committee.

Editorial: Can Small Nations Live? (1939)

Editorial from the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism only knows the jungle-law of “woe to the weak,” and in the fight for markets advantage is on the side of the big battalions of finance, industry and the armed forces. But the distinctive national characteristics are strong, and they survive in face of every effort to obliterate them. What is the solution to this clash of forces? The apologists for British capitalism put forward two entirely different solutions. Outside Europe they claim that subordination to British rule is the proper fate for Indians, Africans and the innumerable other national groups which make up the colonial empire. Inside Europe they proclaim their belief in small nations. The Nazi Government opposes this and demands freedom of action to bring all central and eastern Europe into the German economic sphere. Outside Europe they, too, are in favour of a colonial empire governed from Berlin.

History shows that no attempt by the big Powers to dominate the smaller ones will work satisfactorily, but it shows, equally, that small nations cannot hope to survive in a world given over to fierce capitalist rivalries. Napoleon’s carve-up of Europe had its brief day and collapsed, as also did the attempt by the Powers to re-settle Europe after 1815. In later years the uneasy rivalry between the Franco-Russian group and the German-Austrian group was only a prelude to the Great War and the break-up of the ramshackle Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Then came the Versailles settlement, which established new small Powers in central Europe. Austria, Albania, Czecho-Slovakia, have gone, and others are in a precarious position, but many people believe that if only Nazi capitalist aggression can be stopped Versailles can be patched up again. M. Jan Masaryk, former Czech minister in London, has, however, pointed to the impossibility of that solution. Speaking at the Park Lane Hotel on July 5th, 1939 (Daily Telegraph, July 6th), he proclaimed his faith in the re-establishment of ”a free nation of Czechs and Slovaks,” but added : ”Little countries were not able to live as units. There must be a federation of sorts.” What he has in mind, no doubt, is that federation would give a home market big enough and a State strong enough to resist encroachments by the big Powers of Europe. Such a settlement might be somewhat better, and could hardly be worse, than those that have failed in the past, but it will not solve the problem. Capitalism is in its nature predatory and aggressive. It will always fight for markets, and in the fight it will always aggravate and exploit the differences of language, religion and custom in order to reap some economic advantage at the expense of rivals. Capitalism cannot but breed national hatreds. Not until capitalism has been abolished will Jan Masaryk's ideal become a reality.

Why Socialism? (1939)

From the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Socialist indictment of present-day society there comes back the trite answer of the apologist: “It works!”. Capitalism works. Yes, but so did Chattel Slavery and Feudalism. They went, nevertheless. “Puffing Billy” and the Penny-farthing bike were both worthy and workable propositions, but they are no longer with us. Even the complex machinery of the present-day, which not only works but works with a high degree of efficiency, is often ruthlessly scrapped by the very exigencies of capitalism itself.

The most telling point against the “it works” theorem of the apologist is that it was the founders of scientific Socialism, Marx and Engels, who supplied the most convincing justification ever made for the coming of capitalism on the very grounds of its vastly superior wealth-producing efficiency over the older methods of production which it superseded. It was they who revealed that capitalism, far from being a moral wrong, was a great and necessary historical epoch; whose mission it was to unlock the energies hidden in nature and realise the social resources and human capacities latent in society, and thus open up and multiply the productive forces to the point where they now possess the capabilities of supplying abundant means for all. This contribution from men who never ceased to indict capitalism for the horrors and suffering which its advent entailed for the vast masses, gives to the scientific character of their sociological findings an added force.

Why, then, capitalism's inability to adequately distribute in line with social needs the wealth it so lavishly produces? To understand that it is necessary to understand what are the chief social factors that have brought about the development of present society and what significance this development has for the future. The answer can be sought in the Marxist’s dictum that since the passing of the communal relations of ancient society the history of man has been the history of class struggles. What have men struggled over? Briefly, for the control of the means of producing wealth by which society lives. At different periods one class or another, taking advantage of economic conditions favourable to its advancement, has sought to possess these means of production and operate them along the lines of its own class interests. In this way they secure for themselves the privilege of appropriating the surplus products over and above the working needs of those who produce the wealth but do not control its sources.

Thus men are born into a set of social relations, independent of their own volition, in which they occupy either a privileged or dependent position—master and slave, overlord and serf, capitalist and wage-earner. A few individuals of the dependent section may succeed in getting into the ranks of the privileged, but the non-privileged class as a whole cannot change their economic status without changing the social relationships which have produced it.

It follows that the way men in any period obtain their livelihood constitutes the greatest factor in regulating their lives, and for that reason it is the greatest influence in shaping not only the institutions of the period but the prevailing ideas. “In any epoch,” wrote Marx, “ the ruling ideas are the ideas of its ruling class.”

But this clash of class interests has a vital effect on the course of society’s further economic development. The dependent class will, in seeking its own interests, attempt to either ease or throw off the economic yoke, imposed on it by the dominant class. It can only be completely successful if the continued growth of society—for society can never stand completely still—creates a new set of productive forces capable of expansion beyond the limits imposed by the productive methods of the old society. It is thus that the old social relationship became a fetter on these new productive forces. But new social relationships necessary to operate new productive forces can only be realised if this class obtains control over the main instrument of social power, the State, since it is this political institution which, because of its control over the armed forces of the community, provides the physical means upon which all social authority finally rests.

The forerunners of the present ruling class were once merchants. In quest of profit they strove to extend markets and merchant trade. The old Feudal “interests" sought to hamper and impede them by Feudal taxes and monopoly. However, with the increase of knowledge, with greater technical skill and improved means of communication, the hitherto isolated agricultural communities of Feudalism were brought into closer relationships. Trade grew. With the discoveries in navigation the boundless ocean was tracked and a new path forged its way to a new world. Trade received a mighty impetus, and the merchant class, powerfully supplemented by plunder, robbery, and the profitable enslavement of millions of native peoples, grew to the “great monied interests." In the national sphere the extension of markets reached a stage in which the old methods of production were inadequate to cope with the “market requirements."

The independent mediaeval craftsman, owning his own simple tools, and controlling his own product, was engaged in producing merely for given requirements. Such a method became a fetter on the growth of the market system that wanted production in anticipation of sales. Even the petty, domestic industry, later encouraged by the merchants, had by its very nature severe productive limits placed upon it. A new method of production was required. With the vast accumulation of wealth, in the form of money, at their disposal, a factory system began to grow up. The productive function of the merchants was transformed into the ownership of not only the factories but the materials necessary for turning out goods. Finally, the scientific, technical and mechanical knowledge stimulated by the needs of the time, introduced into the new factories a vastly superior instrument of labour—the machine.

Into these factories came a new class which had been slowly evolving through the centuries—the working class. They were once peasants and agricultural workers, cultivating the soil to which they belonged. The old Feudal nobility, desirous of sharing in the new “money power" which made possible more luxurious levels of existence, sought to convert the produce of the soil into commodities for sale by dispossessing the peasants from their holdings under varying pretexts. The conversion of arable land into sheep farming, in order to take part in the growing English wool trade, and the continual expropriation of small holdings and common land right down to the end of the eighteenth century, to make way for large-scale capitalist farming, are matters of history. Thus the working class, because they were propertyless, were forced to sell their working capacities or labour power to the factory owners, and labour power became a commodity, sold for a price, called wages.

Allowing for market ups and downs, these wages secure on an average a sufficiency of the things necessary to make good the wear and tear and energy which capitalist production entails. But (and this is the mainspring which motivates the capitalist method of wealth production) these wages are only a fraction of the wealth produced. The capitalist, in realising the full value in the market, pockets the surplus in the shape of profit.

Capitalism works, but in whose interests? The result of class ownership of the means of production is but the appropriation of the unpaid labour of the workers. And because every ruling class seeks to further its own class interests the capitalist will never distribute the profits thus made among the workers. This would mean to forego class monopoly and privilege. To expect capitalists to change their nature without changing the social environment which produces that nature is futile and Utopian. However considerate the individual capitalist to his employees, the evils springing from ownership remain untouched. Humane slave owners cannot abolish slavery. While one section of the community is at the economic mercy of another anti-social consequences must ensue.

Capitalism Works—But How ?
Yesterday it staggered out of the crisis—to-day it is staggering towards war.

Then, in spite of the desperate needs of millions of workers, commodities were being destroyed and the productive operations slowed down. At the moment when the output of wealth had reached a peak the existence of the great mass of wealth producers was placed in economic jeopardy.

These contradictions and anomalies are, then, not mere economic accidents, but the inevitable outcome of a system based upon class monopoly. The ever-growing exploitation of the workers leads to ever-increasing amounts of surplus value in possession of the owner which cannot be personally consumed by him. He is forced to seek profitable investment as "capital" in ever-increasing production and over-production of wealth. The workers' wages, based, as they are, on their mere needs as commodity sellers, are unable to purchase back any adequate portion of the goods in relation to the amount produced by them. Capitalism’s answer to human needs in face of the ever-multiplying productive powers can only be glutted markets, crises and unemployment of ever-increasing severity. With it grows the wanton and criminal waste of  “resources" both natural and human.

For a time, the system was able to mask the worst effects by utilising the unpaid labour of its own workers to exploit the backward peoples in Colonies and “conquered areas,” at the same time it was able to expand its markets on a world-wide basis. But this itself has led to a greater expansion of the forces, of production and intensified the contradictions inherent within it. To-day, the markets are diminishing in relation to this productive expansion. Crises, depression and war take on an international character. The ”era” of imperialist expansion is at an end. There are no more new markets, colonies or spheres or influence to win. The capitalist powers, in order to prosper, must fight it out amongst themselves.

The pipe dream of liberal capitalism, with its talk of benevolent and contented workers, is shattered by the brute facts of capitalism. To-day there is greater concentration in the hands of a few than ever before, while the workers, in relation to what they produce, receive less and less. To talk of the prosperity of the workers, as the apologist does, and point out that they enjoy ”luxuries” unknown even to kings in former time, is sheer mendacity. It is tantalising mockery to suggest that the “cooker” with which the wife of an unemployed man or low-paid worker prepares the meagre meal is vastly superior to the contrivance on which Alfred burnt the cakes. Or that when the exploited “wreck” of the industrial scrap-heap listens-in, he is enjoying a privilege unknown to Croesus. The fact remains that, in spite of the ”dazzling” opportunities made possible by our modern wealth producing system, those divorced from the means of living remain within the “shadow” of poverty, lacking the primary things necessary to a healthy existence.

Nor has a century of bourgeois philanthropy and Christian charity prevented the demoralising and deteriorating effect on workers’ lives caused by the economic insecurity and fear arising from a system whose insatiable quest for profits, ruthlessly speeds-up some workers and callously dismisses others.

The prophecy of Free Trade—"of the growing harmony between classes and nations” has been hopelessly falsified. To-day, the existing antagonisms between man and man, class and class, and nation and nation are greater than ever, and are conducted in an atmosphere of increasing and well-nigh unendurable strain and tension.

The fashionable talk of social planning a few years ago has become a bitter jest. Capitalism, because it is without any real social purpose, cannot organise for reconstruction. It can only plan for human destruction. Even then it does not know quite who it plans to kill. It only knows it is going to kill. Ironically enough, preparation for war and supremely war itself achieves a far more effective disposal of capitalism’s surplus wealth and, may we add, surplus population, than can ever be accomplished in the “piping times of peace.” Men who are not wanted for producing bread may be absorbed by re-armament activity for making guns.

The working class run capitalism from top to bottom and perform every useful productive function necessary for carrying it on. Yet they are the class which suffer as the result of its operation. While capitalism remains the worker can never enjoy a life worthy of a human being. For capitalism to attempt to produce solely for use would shake it to its very foundations. Even to turn out goods at full plant capacity would be to invite, comparatively speaking, a standstill almost overnight. That is why capitalism cannot plan for prosperity. Its monopolistic system compels it to restrict at one period the wealth it so lavishly produces at another. For the working class it must always remain the system of organised scarcity. The present system is, then, a fetter on further progress. It must go. The working class, because it is in their interest and because they are the wealth producing class, are alone capable of expanding the productive forces to their highest point, but to do this capitalism must be eliminated and their own emancipation from it achieved. The working class, because it is the last class in historic order to free itself, will, as a result, abolish class society.

Society then becomes a co-operative commonwealth of free producers, where personal values, instead of market values, will be the keynote and where human activity will not be restricted by the sordid profit-making motive, but a selective and voluntary one in which ”the condition for the free development of one is the condition for the free development of all.”

There are ”clever people” who sneer at Socialism. We will take them seriously when they have produced a philosophy half so penetrating and practical in analysing present-day evils and proposing a solution for them. It is perhaps a sign of the times that so few of the present-day non-Socialist thinkers and intellectuals have so little of any constructive value to offer on man’s future. Many of the most outstanding frankly regard this future with pessimism and even despair. Others seek refuge in cynicism, treating life as a jest turned tragic. Unconscious “Jeremiahs,” perhaps, of a decaying and doomed social order. Only the Socialist can be the convinced optimist of mankind’s future.

Socialism is the only teaching which offers a unified social conception of life and seeks to direct man's activities toward a common goal. For the working class it is alone capable of fusing the dim sentiments of class justice and the vague wish to “mould things nearer to the heart’s desire” and crystallise them into a rational undertaking which makes them fitting instruments to inaugurate the future life.

But the stars in their courses do not fight for Socialism. Men make history, as Marx says, and it is only the devotion, initiative and capacity for sacrifice which men bring to the solution of these problems that constitutes the guarantee for their emancipation.

A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. It was again Marx who said that in 1848. It is still haunting world capitalism to-day. The efforts of other people who agree with us, are, however, necessary in order to help us convert the majority to Socialism. Not until this is achieved will this spectre be turned into a reality. Then will capitalism be forced to yield up its own “ ghost."
Ted Wilmott

SPGB Meetings (1939)

Party News from the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sting in the Tail: Timex (1) (1993)

The Sting in the Tail column from the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Timex (1)

Another expert on capitalist enterprise has bitten the dust. He is Timex president Peter Hall. He resigned his post in June although in May he was telling The Herald that “he wasn't a quitter and he would see the dispute through to a resolution".

At that time he was full of confidence about the future of the Timex factory in Dundee:
Timex has been in Dundee for 50 years and we will he here for at least another 50 years, despite the fact that some people seem not to want us here.
Five weeks after that confident forecast he had resigned and the company announced that the factory would close in December. Just another example of the complete unpredictability of the capitalist system and the “experts'" lack of understanding it.

Timex (2)

When Timex’s owner Fred Olsen told the striking Timex workers that they should “reflect calmly” before rejecting the reduced wages and conditions they had been offered, Willie Leslie, the deputy shop stewards’ convenor, replied angrily:
How dare a man described as one of the richest multi-millionaires in the world tell workers who earned £125 a week that they need to tighten their belts to make sure . . . that the profits continue to roll into the Olsen empire. (Guardian. 5 June).
His anger was a natural reaction but does he think Timex is in business to provide jobs for workers? Its aim must be to maximize profits but the Dundee factory is a loss-maker, and as Peter Hall put it bluntly “we have to turn this place round".

Faced with the resolve of the strikers, Timex will now close the Dundee factory. Is this another defeat for the working class? Maybe, but if this dispute serves as a warning to other employers that there is a limit to what workers will endure then the struggle of the Timex strikers will not have been in vain.


Tony Benn has in the past shown that he has grasped at least some of the Marxist analysis of capitalism.
You would never suspect this from his ridiculously idealistic waffle in the Guardian on 29 June. Writing in anger about the American missile attack on Baghdad he correctly describes this as:
a return to Victorian imperialism with its gun-boat diplomacy, carrying out punitive raids whenever the imperial power wishes to demonstrate its strength and assert its authority in defence of its economic interests in oil and the wealth of the Third World.
And his solution? He tells us “what we need is a real New World Order". No, not the abolition of the social system which produces all this hut merely “a reformed United Nations"! Its domination by the “rich nations" is to he swept away and “replaced by policies that are in accord with the Charter of the UN”.

Benn, like all reformers, really believes that with a bit of tinkering capitalism can exist without the warts which are such a fundamental part of it.

That reserve army

Will Hutton, economic editor of the Guardian, wrote on 22 June:
In the middle of the 20th century Keynesian economics came to the rescue of capitalism and dispelled the Marxist claim that to work it required a reserve army of the mass unemployed.
Marx certainly held that capitalism needed what he called an “industrial reserve army" and explained why in Capital (Volume 1, chapter 25). This army was needed to provide labour for new industries without disrupting old industries which also required it and, of course, to keep down the wages of those in work.

Hutton now cites the growth of unemployment in the EC which is expected to rise to 17 million in 1994 as evidence that Keynes's rescue “has proved only temporary" and concludes:
Thus the current spectre haunting Europe is that Marx has finally been proven right—if wrong on the solution.
Marx’s “solution" to unemployment was nothing less than the establishment of socialism and obviously Hutton doesn't agree with that.

Some celebration

Did you know that the United Nations is celebrating its first International Year for the World's Indigenous People?

Trouble is no-one told the Brazilian gold and tin “wildcat" miners. The Yanomami, an ancient Amazon tribal people, are being wiped out by the “progress" of capitalism's development.

In this column we reported in February 1990 that the Yanomami, who have lived in the area for 40,000 years, had been reduced to 20,000. We now learn (Observer, 20 June) this number is down to 7,500:
In some villages there are no surviving old people and no children under two. Gold miners have shot children out of trees calling them “monkeys”, they have raped women and bombed villages, where they want to mine.
Thus does capitalisms market system “improve" the world. Only the mining companies are celebrating such progress.

Africa: left to rot (1993)

From the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Africa has begun to look like an immense illustration of chaos theory. Much of the continent has turned into a battleground of contending dooms: poverty, starvation, illiteracy, corruption, social breakdown, war, and drought. It has become the basket case of the planet, the poorest of the third world, a vast continent in free fall.

In the face of political instability. disintegrating roads, airports and telephone networks, and other disincentives, investors from Europe, USA and Japan are withdrawing from Africa and looking elsewhere; why risk expropriation or failure in a continent with a weakness for one-party dictators, where drainage by corruption often equals the legitimate economic intake?

Expatriate businessmen estimate that wealthy Nigerians have enough money in personal deposits abroad to pay off the country’s entire foreign debt, more than £36 billion. Zaire’s President Mobuto Sese Seko has a personal fortune that has been estimated at from £4 billion to £6 billion, somewhere not far below the level of the country’s external debt. He has isolated himself from his subjects—and from gathering political unrest—aboard a luxury yacht that cruises the Zaire river, with a helicopter waiting on deck.

There are 160 countries on the United Nations Annual Development Index, a measure of comparative economic and political progress; 32 of the lowest 40 are in Africa.

For decades Africa could count on the Cold War as a kind of economic resource. The USA and the former Soviet Union struggled with each other through African proxies, poured in money (though mostly for strategic purposes rather than development) to prop up pro-Western or pro-Soviet surrogates. Now the Cold War is over and so is the geopolitical game, at least for the time being.

As the Berlin Wall tumbled, a Le Monde article was luridly dismissive of the continent:
our priorities are elsewhere, in Europe, in Asia. At a time when our brothers on the other side of the Iron Curtain (eastern Europeans), after having chased out the infamous, desperately need us, why continue favouring ghastly African regimes?
Africa’s inner rhythms of evolution and development were shattered many years ago by the intrusion of Europeans, who brought in alien controls, boundaries and forms of government. Colonialism was slowly introduced as a direct control of Africa. This colonization eventually developed into a direct and brazen exploitation of natural resources and peoples for the exclusive benefit of foreign imperialists.

The African states which exist today are an imposition from the West. The political map of Africa drawn up by the colonizers was dictated by a European cartography of power rather than by any internal dynamic of allegiances. Africa was in this manner brought to the threshold of capitalism with new social divisions, those of capitalists and wage-workers.

Despite the great enthusiasm for liberation and independence of African countries in the 1960s, the African continent is still dependent upon subservience to the highly developed capitalist powers. But the nature of dependency in these times is different from classical colonialism; in fact the so-called independent states have been aided by the colonial-imperialists to break down the old. outworn colonial set-ups which have become a hinderance to the latter’s effective control in Africa. For example, the abolishing of apartheid in South Africa is not an accident or an act of good will from De Klerk; it is being done under pressure from the Western capitalists, who believe that they will benefit more under a President Mandela.

There are immense advantages to be derived for the Western capitalist powers from the newer types of colonialism, such as the “commonwealth” form as exemplified by Britain and France. By such means the former colonies are transformed into economic satellites. Even more effective than this is foreign "aid’’ (at the highest rate of interest to pay back). This benevolent guise conceals the real purposes and serves the interests of the capitalists. Newly-independent countries must come under the yoke of the Western capitalist because of their dire need for aid. And aid without strings does not exist.

As a consequence of the low development of industry and agriculture, the newly-emerged government leaders are compelled to concentrate their efforts upon developing modern agriculture based on cash-crops, and new industries, new resources and new sources of energy. To do this they have to rely heavily on imports from the developed capitalist countries by diverting their limited home industrial and agricultural products for export.

Avoiding capitalism
The question arises: Can Africa’s problems be solved within the framework of capitalism? Is it in fact necessary for the African countries to go through capitalism before it could have socialism?The answer is no, it is not necessary for Africa to go through to highly developed capitalism. The world today is rotten-ripe for socialism. The development of communications to a split-second level means that, given a victorious Socialist majority in the industrialised world, the painful period of capitalist development could be avoided for the millions of people of the Third World countries.

The collapse after seventy-four years of Soviet-Russian “communist” rule was a bitter disillusionment to some African rulers attracted by Leninism. Things might have been different had the growing maturity of the working class crystallized into Socialist consciousness rather than into a defense of Russian state capitalism. Socialists in Africa and all over the world have a job to do working to spread the truth about real Socialism: a world society in which every man, woman and child has freedom of access to all the resources of the world.
Michael Ghebre

Latin America: poverty and pollution (1993)

From the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Latin America has provided many of the striking images of ecological devastation which have fuelled debate on the environment in recent years. Few have been left unmoved by the relentless deforestation of the Amazon Basin or the mercury-polluted moonscapes left by gold prospectors still searching for the mythical Eldorado.

Reactions to the crisis vary. Some view the problems as intractable; the result of overpopulation and a flawed human nature. They retreat into defeatism—mouthing prophesies of the eco-Apocalypse as they go. Others retain their faith in the tired arguments of the reformists; there’s no environmental problem that couldn't be solved with a few more laws, a change of leader, some nature reserves and a little more charity. Socialists, however, reject both reformism and defeatism, recognizing that the roots of environmental destruction lie in the capitalist system and its uncontrollable production for profit, a system incapable of incorporating the rational and democratic decision-making process which will be necessary to ensure an ecologically- sustainable future.

How then has capitalism developed in Latin America, and what have been the consequences for the environment?

Precious metals
Following colonization by European powers in the 15th and 16th centuries Central and South America and the Caribbean were forcibly subjected to the priorities and demands of the fledgling capitalist world market. The new social system imposed on the Americas gradually swept away the technologies, agricultural techniques and cultures of centuries and replaced them with an economic system geared solely to capital accumulation for the few based on the exploitation of the many.

Greed for precious metals led the colonists all over Central and South America. The resultant human misery and environmental degradation was catastrophic. Open-cast mining left wastelands from Mexico to Bolivia, and the timber extracted for mineshafts accelerated deforestation. As the richest seams were exhausted the colonists used mercury from the Peruvian Andes to separate metals from the crushed ore of poorer seams. The waste was just dumped, and poisoned workers and polluted ecosystems bore witness to the new exploitative social system which saw no need to worry about environmental conditions.

The introduction of sugar-cane plantations early in the 16th century, first in the Caribbean and later on the mainland provided the basis for the exploitation of further wealth. However, owing to the genocidal effect of colonization on the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas the ruling class needed a further source of labour.

The African slave trade developed and millions were transported to work on the plantations. The triangular trade routes which flourished between Europe, Africa and the Americas not only strengthened the emerging capitalist class, and left a bitter legacy of racism but led to wholesale deforestation and soil erosion in the plantation areas. The irrigation systems of the plantations also facilitated the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria.

Cash crops
The political map of the continent was reshaped by the nationalist independence movements of the 19th century as local élites freed themselves from the remaining shackles imposed on them from Europe. However, the workers and peasants remained shackled with a class society organized around their exploitation. Environmental problems escalated as new cash-crops such as coffee, bananas and cotton were introduced. By the late 19th century much of the fertile arable land had been taken over by commercial plantations. Cattle ranching and deforestation developed apace.

Those displaced by the plantations and huge estates were forced to find new land on which to grow food. They found it on steep hillsides where rain washed away the topsoil, leading to serious erosion. New land was also found as more and more forest was cleared. The monocultures, deforestation and soil erosion affected the hydrology of many parts of Latin America. Topsoil washed into lakes and rivers causing silting problems and ultimately affecting delicately balanced marine ecosystems. For example, the coastal mangrove swamps of El Salvador were reduced from 300,000 to 6,800 acres and local fish populations dwindled.

As ecologically unsustainable monocultures bled the soil dry and were plagued by pests the owners turned to fertilizers and pesticides to bolster production. Again, it was the workers and the environment who suffered the consequences. Harmful pesticides were, and still are, used with abandon. In many parts of Central America cotton workers are sprayed along with the crop, while their children bathe in and drink polluted water. Mother's milk in parts of Nicaragua reportedly carrries the world’s highest levels of DDT. On the extensive banana plantations on the Atlantic coast of Central America thousands of workers have been sterilized by pesticide poisoning.

Debt crisis
The large-scale borrowing from Western banks made by Latin American governments and private companies during the 1970s and the ensuing debt-crisis have had profound effects on worker and environment alike. With the falling prices of cash-crop and raw material exports such as coffee, bananas, tin etc and the rising prices of essential imports, e.g. machinery and oil. Latin American economies faced serious balance of payments crises. Following the advice of those in power in Western countries many Latin American governments sought to boost their own industrial base in a vain attempt to compete on more equal terms with the more highly developed capitalist economies. Huge amounts were also borrowed to fund the military forces necessary to maintain the status-quo within their borders.

The Western banks were only too keen to lend the “petro-dollars” deposited with them by the oil-producing countries as a result of the OPEC price rises in the early 1970s. The industrial developments financed by the borrowing were often totally inappropriate to local conditions, and incredibly environmentally destructive. For example, huge hydro-electric power schemes in Amazonia necessitated the damming of many rivers flooding vast forested areas occupied by indigenous groups and poor farmers. The dams affected the regional hydrology causing silting problems and the proliferation of floating weeds. Malarial parasites also spread in the artificial lakes.

The Latin American economies borrowed at floating interest rates, so that as interest rates rose in the early 1980s a debt crisis developed when they were unable to keep up with the interest payments. They were also hit by contemporaneous further falls in the prices of their essential exports, and a world slump. Fearing the consequences of large-scale defaulting to the international banking system, the World Bank and the IMF negotiated Structural Adjustment Programmes for those Latin American countries troubled by debt. All the Structural Adjustment Programmes included the slashing of public expenditure, and the boosting of cash-crop exports in order to provide governments with extra revenue for debt repayments.

The benefits to the capitalist class of the IMF and World Bank plans are clear: the stabilization of their economic system. The victims, as ever, are the propertyless majority. The slashing of public expenditure has led to redundancies, wage-cuts, less social services, and less environmental protection. Boosting cash-crop production has led to further deforestation, soil erosion and the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides.

As the region has been progressively immiserated by debt, unemployment and worsening environmental conditions thousands more have flocked to the urban squalour of Latin America’s shanty-towns. The poor sanitation, over-crowding, pollution and disease suffered there is a direct result of a social system which organizes all production around the prospects of profitability for the owning few.

What is the way out of this intolerable state of affairs? As ever reformists offer national solutions, piecemeal reforms and schemes to preserve nature in isolation from humans. What they fail to recognize is that the environmental problems faced are not new or isolated phenomena but intricately linked with the rise to dominance of world capitalism over the last 500 years. It is the uncontrollable nature and ecological unaccountability of capitalist production which must be abolished to rid Latin America and the world of environmental destruction and of working-class poverty. Socialists work to replace a divided world governed by capital with a stateless, moneyless commonwealth under the democratic control of a socialist majority.
Peter Owen

The super-rich . . . (1993)

From the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

In April the Sunday Times published its guide to Britain’s super-rich persons. The list comprised the top 400 wealth-owners with assets between them of some £55 billion, roughly equivalent to the amount of revenue that the government will receive from income tax this financial year. It was stressed that the list was based on estimates of minimum wealth and the actual assets of the flush four hundred are probably worth much more.

At the top of the list, not surprisingly, is the Queen, who as head of state is said to be worth some £5 billion, of which at least £450 million is her own personal wealth (this makes a mockery of the paltry sums raised for charity by her and her family in an attempt to justify their parasitic-status).

The survey then goes on to rattle off a roll-call of revenue-reapers (of whom 25 percent possess an aristocratic title), along with the business or industry with which they are mainly associated, until we arrive at the relative paupers at the bottom who have only managed to amass a trifling £20 million each.

The list includes not only the famous and infamous; far from it. As you might expect there are the Richard Bransons, the Dukes, the smattering of pop stars; but the majority of names would be completely unknown to those of us who don't regularly make killings on the stock market or mount the occasional take-over bid for a multi-national corporation. No, most of these super rich supremos wouldn’t even stand out in a crowd, and yet they control huge businesses and properties and yield influence over millions of lives.

Significantly, the top three wealth-owners after the Queen have amassed their fortunes through food production and distribution, proving that selling people something they must have in order to survive is highly lucrative and certainly not sacrosanct in capitalism’s thirst for the divine dollar. Of course, not all fortunes are made through business. Many are acquired through inheritance, kept in the family so to speak, much as workers inherit a life of exploitation and drudgery from their parents. Some 45 percent of those surveyed were born to their riches, and can look forward to obtaining further revenue via rent, interest and profits.

Assets race
In case you've been moved to rush to the sideboard to retrieve your investment portfolio in order to discover just how far you’re lagging behind in the assets race, it should be mentioned that some of our affluent tycoons have fallen on hard times and find themselves not quite so flush of late. For instance, spare a though for the embattled Duke of Westminster, who has seen the value of his assets fall from £3.5 billion to £1.5 billion since the bottom fell out of the property market. The Duke, who owns budget deficit-sized chunks of ultra-cache Mayfair in the heart of London, has also been clobbered by a recently introduced amendment to the leasehold law which means that tenants have the right to buy their freehold after 21 years. Despite this unforeseen "hardship”, the Duke hasn’t been dissuaded from splashing out on a £650,000 executive jet for commuting to London, but one does after all have to keep up appearances. Likewise, further down the table, poor old Cameron Mackintosh, a 46-year impressario, has seen the value of his theatre production company fall from £200 million to £60 million. Mackintosh has apparently not been prone to self-pity however, having paid himself a salary of £8.3 million in 1991.

However, the tale is not all of doom and gloom and some of our entrepreneurs have experienced substantial windfalls during the past year. Take the Sainsbury family (they of local supermarket fame); its members have seen the value of their empire increased by some £1 billion, without them having to lift a finger. Last November, half-year profits were up 19.4 percent to a staggering £391 million. So next
time you pop out to Sainsbury s to pick up a few essentials and find yourself dismayed by the size of the deficit in your pocket afterwards, take comfort in the knowledge that a good deal of the hard-earned cash you have to hand over every week just to cat is further enriching, amongst others, the Sainsbury folk.

If you think that Britain's richest have rather more than their fair share of a very sumptuous cake, consider the fact that even the Queen ranks only fifth in the worldwide league table. In fact her fortune is dwarfed by that of the world’s wealthiest man. the Sultan of Brunei, whose oil-rich state has provided him with a tidy nest egg of $37 billion (£19 billion).

This tribute to Britain's under-worked and overprivileged plutocracy did not of course lake the form of a denouncement but was more of a celebration of the vast inequalities created by a property society. Despite several pages being devoted to honouring a mere 400 capitalists, who take no direct part in producing goods or services, not a single column inch was given over to the plight of the millions of workers (who actually produce everything) and their struggle to make ends meet week after week. But then producing an article listing the poorest members of society with total assets up to £55 billion would require several volumes and an inordinate degree of monetary exaggeration.

You’d think that by actually publishing this information the Sunday Times would be guilty of incitement to riot, or at least precipitating several angry letters to the editor. Not a bit of it; it’s a remarkable testament to capitalism's power to persuade and influence the majority of the working class that one of the mouth-pieces of the ruling class can openly boast about the inflated fortunes of its leading members without provoking mass outrage and calls for a fairer system of wealth distribution.The fact is of course that most workers actually believe that the current system, while perhaps, not entirely fair, is nevertheless immutable and that there is no viable alternative.

Socialists have no personal grudge against the people described above; when all the affectations and the airs and graces are stripped away they are just ordinary people like everyone else. It is however very important to recognise that it is the economic system known as capitalism which causes such disparity between the haves and the have-nots. It is the job of socialists to campaign for an alternative economic system under which each and everyone can partake of the wealth that this planet can yield and to persuade workers that things can be run differently, that is, not only in the interests of the few. Dare we even imagine a day when a future socialist equivalent of the Sunday Times may produce a special supplement entitled "Revealed: The World’s Wealthy”. More difficult to imagine is how you could fit into such a supplement the name of every person in the world . 
Nick Brunskill