Saturday, August 13, 2022

News in Review: Mr. Robens (1960)

The News in Review column from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Robens

The Labour Party rank and file and the Mineworkers’ leaders have received with mixed feelings the news that Mr. Robens, a Labour Party leader, is to be elected Chairman of the National Coal Board. The majority of the Mine Workers’ leaders at their Conference at Llandudno were vociferous in their attack on the proposed decentralization that is now being discussed by the Management side of the industry. Mr. Sam Watson however suggested that Robens' name should be kept out of the discussion as the Conference should have confidence in a man who has spent his life in the working class movement, and he should be preferred to a retired General, Admiral or a Tory.

Putting aside all the discussions on the rights or wrongs of the appointment, one should view the set-up in its true perspective. After all, the retiring Chairman, Sir James Bowman, ex-Mineworkers’ leader, has been a party to the closing of uneconomic pits for at least the last two years. In fact, the East Fife coalfields of Scotland have become almost a depressed area, and this year it is proposed to close another 40 pits. And he also spent his life in the “working class movement.” With all the changes that will have to take place in the industry, it is important that the Chairman should have some understanding of the running of it and also some understanding of the best approach to the union.

Mr. Robens is undoubtedly a good choice from the Board’s point of view. Firstly, he has the association with trade unions as an ex-official of a union and Labour M.P. and also as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power in the Labour Government. He clearly has a knowledge of the administrative side of the industry. So, to sum it up, Mr. Macmillian has appointed himself a good chairman, and Mr. Robens has got £10,000 a year. What, of course is not mentioned by the Press is that nationalisation is just another form of capitalism and whoever is chairman of the N.C.B., his job is to run the coalmines and make them pay.


Until recently, America has been paying inflated prices for Cuban sugar for the privilege of refining and marketing oil in Cuba. The current fracas was touched off by the American proposal to limit imports of Cuban sugar. As to be expected, the old imperialist game of fishing in troubled waters is being played with great gusto by the Soviet Union. Their agreement to supply crude oil to Cuba will serve the dual purpose of getting rid of some of the surplus oil that is steadily accumulating in the Caucasus and getting one foot firmly stamped down on America's doorstep. Undoubtedly, having the “enemy” so close to the American mainland will upset the U.S. defence system. The Cuban dictator, Dr. Castro, is taking full advantage of the situation and whether America will tolerate this remains for the moment a matter of conjecture. Only one thing is certain, Whatever the outcome, the poverty stricken peasants and workers of Cuba will remain the poverty stricken peasants and workers of Cuba.

Japan in Turmoil

From recent events in Japan it would appear that the more help one gets the less grateful one becomes. When it is considered that Japan’s economic recovery was primarily due to U.S. assistance and America’s need for overseas military bases, one would have thought Uncle Sam’s representative, Mr. Eisenhower, would have had no difficulty in a courtesy call to a “ great sister democracy.” The visit was to have been marked by the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty which would extend the Japanese agreement to U.S. military bases. Despite the precautions taken (which included the President’s “ bullet-proof bubble-top car,” 25,000 police, 2,000 firemen, 38 fire engines, 15 ambulances and four radio cars), the trip was called off.

We are not particularly concerned with the reasons for the cancellation of the visit. It is certain that considering the nature of the mass demonstrations, many of the Japanese have memories of the consequences of military alliances, particularly since it is the only country which has had experience of nuclear warfare and its effects. The point must be made, however, that mere demonstrations against the effects will not solve the problems facing the Japanese people. The history of capitalism is littered with broken treaties and alliances. The Japanese capitalist class whom Prime Minister Kishi represents, and who have benefited greatly by their close relations with America and its enormous post-war loans, have every interest in establishing and developing once again their so-called “defensive forces.” These armed forces and the fact that Japan is the most highly industrialised power in Asia with a dearth of natural resources and an increasing population, will ensure more success in their demands for greater “freedom of action” and the usual demand for a more independent “foreign policy” which in capitalist terms means the rat-race for a share of the world’s markets. To the Japanese working class we suggest that treaty or no treaty, they have still got capitalism and the constant threat of another holocaust, nuclear or otherwise.

The Labour Party

The decline of the Labour Party since its 1945 election success has now reached a level that has caused some speculation in the Press as to whether the Party is finished as a political force In their articles on the subject, the writers usually attribute the troubles of the Labour Party to the lack of unity within its ranks. In capitalist political circles, unity is an expedient for winning elections and not a factor brought about by an understanding and acceptance of basic principles. How often in the past has the SPGB been urged by critics to unite with the various capitalist left-wing parties as a means to further the cause of Socialism? This despite the fact that the political outlook of the parties are in direct opposition.

The present dilemma of the Labour Party arises out of the apathy of the working class towards policies which sufficed to lure the workers into returning a Labour Government in 1945, but failed to deliver the goods. The arguments ranging round Clause 4 show that the main plank in the Labour Party’s policy—nationalisation—has been tried and found wanting as a solution to the workers’ problems.

Homes—at a price

Are you desperately searching for a flat? Are you dissatisfied with your present housing conditions? Do you feel perhaps that you would like to improve upon your existing living quarters? Do not delay, but instantly get in touch with Ralph Pay & Taylor, agents for builders Rush & Tompkins (absolutely no connection with Slapiton & Leavitt of Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist fame), who are just about to start building a block of 12 luxury flats and a penthouse in Hyde Park Gardens with splendid views across Hyde Park Evening Standard (30/6/60). The flats will sell for about £40,000. However, if you’re interested in the penthouse, which will cost more, you’d better put your skates on, because Mr. Whitney Straight, deputy Chairman of Rolls-Royce, is understood to have first refusal.

Nationalisation and Profits

A little simple arithmetic gives the game away. Last year, the British Transport Commission piled up what they call a working deficit of £12.6 millions. But this deficit was declared after taking account of the fixed interest which the Commission must pay on its stock. This stock, of course, replaced private shares many of which had not paid a dividend for some time before the nationalisation of the railways and other transport undertakings by the Labour Government. The fixed interest charges, with other central expenses, came to £42 millions. Now £12.6 millions away from £42 millions leaves £29.4 millions. And that is the profit which the Transport Commission actually made last year. It is fairly safe to assume that no privately owned railway—or any other company—which made £29 millions, would deliberately land themselves in the red by paying £42 millions out in interest. But that is precisely what British Transport Commission—like many other nationalised industries—have done. Which is an indication that, whatever nationalisation may be, it is not a kick in the teeth for the shareholders.

Clean Sweep

Hoovers have something of a reputation for American business ruthlessness. This was a popular explanation for their recent declaration that 800 of their workers were to be sacked as redundant. It was certainly common among the two and a half thousand Hoover workers who struck in protest at the proposed sackings. Hoovers blamed the redundancy on to the hire-purchase restrictions which the government had just imposed. But that is only part of the story. In fact, orders for products like washing machines had been falling for some time before the restrictions came on; production had started to decline well before the last Budget. In addition, foreign competition has been strong, as a glance in the window of any electrical goods shop will reveal. Hoovers estimate that 10 per cent of the washing machines and 8 per cent, of the vacuum cleaners sold in this country in 1959 were imported.

This could mean that last year’s boom in what are called the durable consumer goods industries has blown out—and Hoovers, who benefited so extraordinarily from it, have been the first to suffer. There is one other point worth noticing. Hoovers employ some expensive brains so that they can be forewarned against slumps. The company’s last Annual Report said that 1960 would be “. . . another satisfactory year although not at the same level as 1959." This is not the first economists’ forecast to be upset by . the inherent anarchies of capitalist society.

Inside Prison

Recently, the Home Office announced the Government’s plan to spend £12m. over the next three years on a new prison building programme. It is hoped that the new prisons and other penal-institutions will ease the present need to incarcerate thousands of prisoners three to a cell.

One feature of the new buildings that has been claimed as a step forward is the proposal to build lower perimeter walls.. In future these will be concrete walls only 6 ft. in height though just within these walls will be an inner 12 ft. chain fence surmounted by barbed wire. But for the most part, prisoners will continue to be confined within punishment houses, such as Wandsworth, Brixton, Reading, Strangeways and Dartmoor, all jails many years old.

A great deal has been made of these proposals and they have been taken as the policy of an enlightened administration, but in fact they are further evidence of the Government’s commitment to dealing with offenders against propertied society with repressive punishments. In perspective, prisons are a horrible scar across the face of modern society filled with the worst failures of our cruelly competitive social system, persons who in the main start out with enormous handicaps of ignorance and poverty. At best prisoners are robbed of all dignity and locked up in degrading circumstances. At worst they are starved on a diet of bread and water, sometimes flogged and occasionally have their necks broken on the scaffold.

A basic hypocrisy of capitalism is that it legalises the exploitation of the mass of mankind and supports the social privilege of the propertied class. The individual is usually held responsible for crime and very few suggest as the cause the failure of our own society. When all men are elevated to the dignity of an equal relationship in regard to wealth, the rebellious act of crime and the irrational institutions of punishment will not exist.

50 Years Ago: The Johnson-Jeffries fight (1960)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard 
[The defeat at Reno of Jeffries, by the coloured boxer Johnson, led to racial rioting in America. The following comments on the film of the fight appeared in the Socialist Standard, August, 1910.]
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Was it to be supposed that civilisation could stand it? We all know that civilisation is based firstly upon the superiority of the white to the coloured races, and secondly, upon the superiority of the capitalist to the ordinary or worker white. But what sort of an effect would these moving pictures have upon the social aspect in Africa, and what tale would they whisper into the ear of young India, and how would they be received on the banks of the Nile, where the burden of the white man’s civilisation sits none too lightly on brown backs? The best black man has beaten the best white. The best black man is better than the best white. The black is better than the white.

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As Japan snatched the halo of sanctity from the Western Brow when she drove the Russiao legions before her, so these pictures of the best white man trying and failing to chew all he had bitten off might be taken by the dusky ones the world over as evidence that the miraculous no more belongs to the white skin than to the Western position. . . and then goodbye to British misrule in India and Egypt, and farewell to white supremacy in East and West. And then when the worker white made the startling discovery that there was nothing inferior to him he might begin to seriously ask if there is anything superior, and such an inward searching really would place the foundations of our capitalist civilisation in jeopardy.

Finance and Industry: Business Men in Russia (1960)

The Finance and Industry column from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Business Men in Russia

A team of business men from the Institute of Directors visited Russia to meet the heads of Russian industry, “to get an overall picture of top Russian management policy in industry and commerce.” An interview with one of the team, Mr. Geoffrey Kitchen, Chairman of the Pearl Assurance Co., by Mr. Alexander Thomson, City Editor of the Evening Standard, was published under the heading, “This Capitalist was so impressed by Russia” (Evening Standard, 8/7/60).

When we read what so impressed him we may surmise that he is rather naive. 

He tells us:
There are no strikes. But not because they are forbidden, as we sometimes imagine. The reason is that everybody in Russia realises that strikes do more harm than good.
Mr. Kitchen accepts that this is true because his opposite numbers in Russia told him so, and, as he says, “all doors were thrown open to us. We were given every facility to ask questions. There were no barriers anywhere.” But are we to take this literally? Did Mr. Kitchen actually ask his questions of Russian workers themselves, in conditions safeguarding them against possible consequences? Or did he ask only the Russian bosses (rather like being assured by the governor of a prison that all the prisoners are happy!)

Did it not seem odd to Mr. Kitchen that in all the countries of the world where workers can organise and strike with comparative impunity they do so, yet the tens of millions of wage earners in Russia decide, unanimously, not to? And note the implied criticism of British, American and all other workers, all except those in Russia: every one of the latter realises that strikes are no good, but the rest of us just haven't enough sense to see it. Perhaps Mr. Kitchen hopes that British workers who have the habit of going on strike against the advice of the managements will be a little more co-operative when reminded of the example set by workers in Russia.

Mr. Kitchen was asked by Thomson to sum up his impressions of Russia:
Both our systems seem to be working towards the same end. We are approaching it from different directions. But we are both aiming at the prosperity and goodwill of our people.
Does it make Mr. Kitchen sad to see that while every Russian worker gratefully responds to the kindness and good intentions of his bosses, workers here still harbour unjust suspicions that their bosses have something else in view besides the “prosperity” of those they employ?

No Stability for Profits

In his last speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Heathcoat Amory, on 11th July, told the House of Commons that among his aims during his 2½ years of office had been to maintain full employment and price stability, and he was worried concerning the possibility that rising wages might endanger the stability achieved. One thing he did not achieve was stability of profits. According to an analysis of industrial company profits made by Exchange Telegraph Co. and reported in the Evening Standard (8/7/60) industrial profits of 2,387 companies were about 20 per cent. higher in six months of 1960 than in the first half of 1959. If the companies reporting on the rest of the year show a similar increase, 1960 will be a record year for shareholders since the end of the war. Though profits, with some setbacks, have been rising for a dozen years on no previous occasion has there been a jump of anything like 20 per cent. Between 1958 and 1959 the increase was about 6 per cent.

German Success Story

In Western Germany there are now almost no unemployed, though for years there were rarely fewer than a million. It is an interesting example of the way capitalism “proves” that there are first too many people and then too few. When trade was stagnant, work could not be found and many people in Germany deplored the inflow of refugees from Russian-controlled Eastern Germany. Then production and trade expanded, the unemployed were absorbed and hundreds of thousands of workers are now being brought in from neighbouring countries to fill the vacant jobs.

There are other instructive things to note about Western Germany. In Great Britain employers and politicians (including the retiring Chancellor of the Exchequer, Heathcoat Amory) warn us of the importance of boosting exports, of keeping up the exchange value of the £ and of piling up a larger gold and dollar reserve. They tell us that if these things are done all will be well, but if we fail to do them we shall be in trouble. Claims for a reduction of working hours to 40, and claims for higher wages are resisted on the ground that such measures would weaken the export position of the £ and be generally dangerous.

On occasion the employers have quoted Germany as a land in which the workers work harder and longer and complain less. Let us then look at Germany: truly a capital success story. Exports booming, the mark strong and getting stronger, a gold reserve twice as large as that in Britain and production increasing much faster. Surely in such a country the government and the employers must be coming forward to reward their diligent and faithful workers, showering higher wages on them and begging them to work less hard and take more leisure?

But not at all. The German Economics Minister, Professor Erhard, talks just like the British political and business heads. The following is from The Times (4/7/60), reporting Erhard:
He gave warning against the union's demand for a 40-hour working week, and wondered if a slump was necessary to bring people to their senses. He criticized employers for passing on increased costs to the consumer: an annual price increase of 3 per cent. was no bagatelle, he said, if it continued year after year.

Automation was not the universal panacea. German workmanship was not what it was, and craftsmanship had an important role to play if quality was to be maintained.

Dr. Amory’s "Cures ”

In our issue for March of this year reference was made to the claim that Heathcoat Amory’s 1959 budget was successful in curing the growing industrial and trade stagnation; and to the retort by Mr. Enoch Powell that the government’s budget policy had nothing whatever to do with it because in the normal fashion of trade contraction and expansion recovery was already taking place before the budget could have had any effect. As he put it, “the patient was up and playing golf before he could swallow the medicine.”

Now we are presented with the reverse side of the same problem. After expansion had been going on for some time, and seemingly in a manner regarded by the Chancellor as satisfactory—after all the patient was supposed to have been restored to health and vigour by medicine prescribed by him—notes of alarm were heard again and the patient’s incipient fever was to be damped down by the credit restrictions and then by the higher bank rate. But if the evidence shows that the patient was on the upgrade before taking the medicine in 1959 it now seems that the fever was already passing away before the new medicine of 1960. For the idea of the credit squeeze was to lessen the hire purchase buying of consumer goods, but many critics of the Chancellor’s action are arguing that sales were already falling off before the squeeze was imposed so the squeeze was unnecessary. A Guardian editorial (4/7/60) said:
The past week has brought fresh support for those who questioned the need for the Chancellor's latest round of credit restrictions. The Board of Trade’s admission that hire purchase sales in May dropped below last year’s level simply confirms the view, expressed by many manufacturers and traders, that the boom in demand for consumer durable goods had already slackened off. Reports continue to come in of growing stocks of household appliances in the hands of retailers; and Vauxhall has announced the ending of overtime on its car assembly lines. Since the pressure of the consumer boom is letting up just at the time when capital investment by industry is beginning to rise sharply, the Government ought to have been congratulating itself on achieving a desirable balance in the economy, rather than imposing new restrictions.
Mr. Andrew Shonfield, Economic Editor of the Observer, wrote (3/7/60) in similar vein: “There is now firm evidence of the official figures showing that production of consumer goods by the engineering industries actually turned down in the first quarter of the  year—well before the Budget.”

The Economist (2/7/60) took the line that the Chancellor had become alarmed about the prospect of demands for higher wages being met halfway by employers who hoped to be able to recoup themselves by charging higher prices, and that the credit restrictions were imposed by Amory in the desire to discourage that frame of mind and make wage increases more difficult. The Economist thinks that “once again, wages are becoming a key issue in British economic policy ”—as if there was ever a time when they weren’t.
Edgar Hardcastle