Saturday, February 25, 2023

The best of times, the worst of times (2023)

From the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perhaps it is the nature of ‘the news’ and its love of drama but most commentators seem to concur that we are living in the worst of times. The ‘obvious’ decline of this country parallels the disasters endured by many others of past and present. The anarchic reality of capitalism lies behind most of our contemporary problems but remains hidden beneath moral outrage and politically sectarian invective. There has never been a time when the NHS has not been in crisis and where a war has not raged somewhere on the planet; there has never been a time when a child is not dying for lack of clean water and an unpolluted environment; there has never been a time when the rich suffered and the poor did not – this is normal for all class-divided cultures. As the memories of an imaginary ‘golden age’ fade and are replaced by a shared sense of doom and despair for the future we might ask if our species has a predilection for self-destruction and somehow relishes the thought of disaster.

The Armageddon zeitgeist of popular culture has spawned numerous variations on how the world might end; from zombies and plagues to meteorite impacts and nuclear holocausts it’s hard to find an optimistic narrative when it comes to imagining humanity’s future. To some degree this reflects the failure of capitalism to deliver its promise of economic progress and security for all – the culture just seems to have run its course with nowhere else to go. After the Second World War there was an optimism that things would change and the baby-boomers of the 1960s were in the forefront of political activism that focused on reforming the economic system to bring some measure of equality and justice, at least in the West. Working-class culture blossomed with innovative forms of music, fashion, film and TV. This was all predicated on the belief that things would change for the better; when this proved to be an illusion and the forces of reaction were brought back to power as the result of reformist failure the road to disaster seemed almost inevitable. Thatcher and Reagan were symbols of this failure – theirs was the politics of atavistic hatred. The neo-con ideology took on the Orwellian role of turning facts into fiction and vice-versa. We still live with this legacy today only it has accelerated and evolved into the monster of ‘fake news’ fuelled by the global internet.

Propaganda has always taken advantage of whatever media are available. The Nazis were one of the first groups to see the potential of the mass media of radio and film – we still look back on Goebbels as the paradigm of propagandists. He would have adored the opportunities afforded by the internet. Unfortunately the online producers of ‘news’ are as in love with dramatic headlines as are the pulp mainstream media – of course many of them are sponsored and produced by the very same people. However if you have the patience you can find authentic voices of dissent who can provide a very different perspective. The world has become a smaller place where the suffering and conflicts everywhere are accessible in your home which only adds to the sense of unease and foreboding created by the tension of events in our everyday lives. Some embrace the cynicism of not believing in anything whilst others are caught up in the shifting sands of the impotent and meaningless debates between Left and Right. All too often these online arguments end up being merely egotistical slanging matches that produce much heat without any light. Is the internet just the latest example of a medium being used as a vehicle for ideological propaganda or has its very quantity of information changed its quality? Instead of relying on your favourite newspaper columnist or TV news show you have to make an effort to research alternative voices if your opinion is to have any value. The cultural zeitgeist has become irrevocably international.

The voice of doom has become universal and resonates in every corner of the globe. Betrayed hopes fuel the never-ending discovery of new reasons and causes of a seemingly inevitable end for our species. Will the children of today look back on their childhood fondly as a ‘golden age’ as many of the older generation do? Socialists have optimism built into their DNA but even we struggle to find an upbeat answer to Rosa Luxemburg’s question: ‘Is it to be socialism or barbarism?’ Of course it hasn’t come to that yet but we fear that time is running out. Many people in the past also felt an impending sense that ‘the end is nigh’ but this was based on the assumption that the battle between good and evil would be resolved one way or another. But instead of the dramatic human finale of Armageddon predicted by so many our species might just fade into oblivion within a sea of political cynicism and apathy leaving the rich to count their ever increasing wealth until one day they find they have nothing to buy with it.

The Dickens quote, part of which heads this article, seems to describe my life and times (born in the mid 1950s) as I suspect it would for many of my generation and is worth repeating in full:
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair’ (A Tale of Two Cities).

The Admiral’s speech (2023)

From the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the ways the mass media propaganda system works is through emphasis and de-emphasis of stories. Sometimes a story might be reported, and a piece is put in a small corner of their content (so they can always say later that they did cover it), but if something is emphasised, it becomes screaming headline news. For example, the massacres by the Wagner group in Mali in March this year barely caused a ripple in the UK press (months later, the Guardian would report them, as part of an anti-Russian stance). To take another example, the Susan Hussey scandal, indicative as it was of racial and cultural attitudes among the royal entourage, was blasted to full-bore front-page coverage by the BBC and other outlets, presumably because of the potential Harry and Meghan angle. In some ways, it probably deserved a couple of inches in the gossip columns.

A side effect of this, is when insiders are talking to each other, they can safely say scandalous things that many may find objectionable, but they will never be reported (or, in some instances, will be held onto and reported at a later date, when scandal becomes convenient to one faction or other). To take a recent example: Tony Radakin, the Chief of Defence Staff (the highest ranked officer in the armed forces) gave a speech at the Mansion House of the City of London on 19 October last year. The full text is online here.

The City of London itself is an interesting body of insiders: although it is a local authority of a kind with the usual powers of such, it has corporate electors (nominated employees of firms based in the City). As such, it is intimately bound up with the globe-spanning businesses of the financial centre of London. As the journalist Matt Kannard in the muck-raking website Declassified has noted (without whose output, Radakin’s speech may have gone unnoticed too):
‘The Corporation recently blocked Declassified’s request for the release of information about the foreign schedule of its leader, the Lord Mayor, but we have managed to see his 2019-20 agenda. This saw him planning to visit an average of three different foreign countries every month, considerably more than the foreign secretary typically does’ (
They argued that as the trips were privately funded, freedom of information laws do not apply. Kennard was told: ‘It is the role of the national government to lead on foreign policy. It is the role of City of London Corporation to support the City. As part of this role the City Corporation engages with business partners across the world and throughout the year’. That the Lord Mayor of London also liaises with the Foreign Secretary on a regular basis shows just how influential this business clique is.

So, when addressed by the head of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, it is unsurprising that an honest and frank description of the state of the world is to be expected.

As he attests, international order and the rule of law:
‘matter here in the City of London too, because markets thrive on stability, and our prosperity rests on a world that is safe for the passage of trade’.

‘And when the rules are broken, volatility and instability follow. When aggression is left unchecked the costs ricochet through global markets. This affects people everywhere, and especially the world’s poorest.’
This is a voice of the very pinnacle of the defence establishment clearly stating that the purpose of having armed forces is to help benefit the commercial relations of capitalists within the UK. He emphasises:
‘The role of the United Kingdom Armed Forces, even with a war in Europe, is more than just focusing on defending the nation’.

‘It is about a maximalist approach to the military instrument. Using our power and influence in all its guises: both to further our security and prosperity. But especially – when we get it right – to add to the agency and authority of the British Government and the nation.’

‘Agency and authority’ are the very arguments Putin uses to justify his approach to foreign policy too. A lot of voters in the UK might sincerely believe that the military exists to protect their lives and their homes, and might, rightly, be expected to object to a notion that the military exists to help corporations make deals worldwide. That, after all, is pure gangsterism. Indeed, the propaganda in movies and TV is exactly that the military exists to ensure we ‘sleep safe in our beds’, not to make money overseas. But:

‘We spend more than £20 billion with British industry every year. And in 2020 we generated almost £8 billion in defence exports, more than any other European country.’
The defence exports are part of the leverage, creating friendly states bound by military ties, and in turn supporting the existence of governments whose own military is there to protect the leaders from the people. But it is still interesting to see the economic aspects of Britain’s war machine being so clearly laid out.

Radakin also notes: ‘Britain is an expeditionary rather than a continental power’. This might be expected of an Admiral. After all, the rivalry between the services is about funding, and a purely defensive British defence strategy would have less need for the clout of a big navy.

There is an element of hypocrisy too. He notes Putin’s ‘nuclear rhetoric’. As the Peace Campaigner Milan Rai has noted:
‘Daniel Ellsberg, the US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon’s secret internal history of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, wrote in 1981: “Again and again, generally in secret from the American public, US nuclear weapons have been used, for quite different purposes: in the precise way that a gun is used when you point it at someone’s head in a direct confrontation, whether or not the trigger is pulled.” Britain has used its nuclear weapons in the same way, repeatedly’ ( ).
The armed forces are a gun pointed at the world’s head, for the benefit of the owners of society, and it is refreshing to hear them admit it.
Pik Smeet

Cooking the Books: Taking back what control? (2023)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his New Year speech on 5 January, the Labour Leader, Sir Keith Starmer, uttered the following empty promise about what a future Labour government would bring about:
‘A fairer, greener, more dynamic country with an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. And a politics which trusts communities with the power to control their destiny’ (
In other words, the same old reformist illusion that a Labour government can change the capitalist economy so that it ‘works for everyone, not just those at the top.’ As if previous Labour governments hadn’t repeatedly tried and failed to do this. They failed because it is a ‘Mission Impossible’ to make capitalism work other than as a profit system for the benefit of the profit-takers and to the detriment of those who work for wages.

Starmer made it quite clear that a future Labour government would accept the profit system, declaring at one point that ‘for national renewal, there is no substitute for a robust private sector, creating wealth in every community’.

He denounced the Tories for practising ‘sticking-plaster politics’ which ‘sometimes delivers relief. But the long-term cure – that always eludes us’. But that is precisely what the Labour Party has always aspired to do. To try to mitigate the effects of capitalism that confront the wage-working class while leaving the cause — the class ownership of productive resources and production for the market with a view to profit — unchanged. In short, to patch up capitalism by sticking plaster over its effects.

But it wasn’t just the Tories that Starmer said were engaged in ‘sticker-plaster politics’ but ‘the whole Westminster system’.

His solution? To carry out yet another re-organisation of local government in Britain: ‘a huge power shift out of Westminster can transform our economy, our politics and our democracy.’ This would change politics to some extent, if only by providing more paid posts for professional politicians, but how will it ‘transform’ the economy?

The economy will remain capitalist, which will mean that those making political and economic decisions, whoever or wherever they are, will still have to take into account that profits must be the priority as the pursuit of profits is what drives the capitalist economy. It doesn’t make any difference who makes these decisions or where.

Starmer is making the same mistake here as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, who think that the problems of workers in those regions are caused not by capitalism but by the decisions about how capitalism has to be run being taken in London rather than in Edinburgh or Cardiff. He thinks that it will make a difference to the way capitalism works if the decisions are made in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, etc. instead of in London. But it won’t. And it certainly won’t give those living there ‘the power to control their destiny.’

In a cynical move to win back Brexit voters, he promised a ‘Take Back Control’ Bill that would even be ‘a centrepiece of our first King’s speech’. A stupid title anyway since people never had any control in the first place to take back. Even national governments can’t control the way capitalism works, local mayors and councils even less. It is the other way around. Capitalism controls what governments can do, by obliging them to abide by its economic law of ‘profits first’ on pain of provoking an economic downturn.

It’s why they all fail and why the promises they make are empty. And why changing governments changes nothing, or, to borrow Starmer’s own words, when this happens ‘nothing has changed, but the circus moves on. Rinse and repeat’.

Bird’s Eye View: Many a true word is spoken in jest (2023)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many a true word is spoken in jest
‘The Islamic religion not only bans pork and booze; Islamic governments are totally anti-LGBTQ. In Muslim countries you are not allowed to eat, drink or be Mary. It was interesting to watch the Qatar team score its first goal. When the players got excited about it and celebrated by hugging each other, it was surprising they were not immediately stoned by authorities. Karl Marx was not right about much, but he hit the nail on the head when he said, “Religion is the opium of the people”’ (Daily Caller, 1 December,
Indonesia today, unlike Qatar, is an example of what passes for democracy under capitalism, yet its recently amended penal code would not look out of place there. Both say there is no room for the proliferation of the LGBT movement. Even worse:
‘Spreading communist, Marxist, or Leninist ideologies, or philosophies deviating from the national ideology of pancasila—five largely secular guidelines for Indonesian life introduced by the country’s first president—will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. And the country’s rules on blasphemy will be expanded to include apostasy (persuading a believer of one of Indonesia’s six recognized religions—Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism—to become a nonbeliever), punishable by up to four years in prison’ (Time, 6 December,
Verily, the past lies like a nightmare upon the present. Worse still, the growth of socialist knowledge, the mass understanding and conscious change at which we aim, can only be hindered by such legislation. Marx said, 175 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, ‘law, morality, religion are to him [the working class] so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests’. In other words, the ruling class will employ any moralistic ideals at its disposal to tape over the brutal system of exploitation which we run in their interest.

As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly

China MiƩville, author of A Spectre, Haunting, On the Communist Manifesto (2022) stated recently:
‘I constantly look around at the world and I think this cannot be as good as we can do. This can’t be as good as we can do and there are only so many times we can say if you just let us tinker with that a little bit, it’ll get better. And when that keeps failing, and keeps failing and keeps failing, we have to say to ourselves there is something in this structure that is leading to this. And when the structure itself says our driving energy is profit, not human need, it is not rocket science to think this might be related to the problems of the world’ (MSNBC, 7 December,
This voice of reason makes a welcome change from what passes for informed comment in, for example the American Thinker (sic!):
‘On a personal note, I know these clowns don’t read the book, because I ask every time I meet one; I have yet to find a “communist” who has actually read the Manifesto. (There’s really no excuse given the fact it’s basically a pamphlet, and contains an ideology responsible for the deaths of more than 100 million people, so what could they possibly have going on that’s more important than getting to the bottom of it, especially if they’re actively advocating and voting for communist policies that pave the way for more of the most horrendous tyranny known to man; but what do I know?)’ (American Thinker, 2 December,
Echoing the Manifesto’s ‘Society can no longer live under the bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society,’ MiĆ©ville states in a by far better, earlier interview:
‘Marxism isn’t about saying you’ll get a perfect world: it’s about saying we can get a better world than this one, and it’s hard to imagine, no matter how many mistakes we make, that it could be much worse than the mass starvation, war, oppression, and exploitation we have now. In a world where 30,000 to 40,000 children die of malnutrition daily while grain ships are designed to dump food into the sea if the price dips too low, it’s worth the risk’ (Science Fiction Studies, November 2003,

The pen is mightier than the sword
‘In her 50 years of filmmaking, Reichert won two Primetime Emmy Awards and was nominated for four Oscars, winning one with her partner Steven Bognar for “American Factory” in 2020. She quoted “The Communist Manifesto” in her speech, saying “things will get better when workers of the world unite”‘ (abcnews, 2 December,
Indeed. But what then, you may well ask, will be socialism’s attitude to existing religions?
‘All religions so far have been the expression of historical stages of development of individual peoples or groups of peoples. But communism is the stage of historical development which makes all existing religions superfluous and brings about their disappearance.’
And, to be clear for the old trope-believing American Thinkers out there:
‘Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat’.
Liberation, not elimination! To be fair, those Thinkers probably have not read The Principles Of Communism in which these passages appear, one of Engels’ two early drafts of what would become the Communist Manifesto ( In fact, setting to one side the capitalist measures at the end of section 2 (which Marx and Engels in their joint preface to the 1872 edition declared obsolete) there is still much that socialists today would incorporate into a Manifesto for this century including:
‘The working men have no country. We cannot take away from them what they have not got.’

‘…every class struggle is a political struggle.’

'The struggle for socialism ‘is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.’

‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.’

‘Workers of the world, unite!’

Enough is enough is not enough (2023)

From the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over the past decades, employers have been fierce and unrelenting. Companies laid off workers, attacked unions and demanded concessions. Governments of all stripes helped by eroding labour standards, de-regulating industries, privatising services and permitting job out-sourcing. Being in a weak position the union leaders recoiled from the prospect of waging an all-out class war to challenge the employers so they accepted the new contracts, no matter how damaging, in the hope that lost ground could be regained. Emboldened by this, employers demanded workers forfeit more established practices, even as the stock market boomed and profits soared. With few notable exceptions, strikes were defeated, union recruitment drives failed and workers became demoralised.

But now trade union militancy and strikes have returned to the forefront of British politics. The Socialist Party does not minimise the necessity and importance of workers keeping up the struggle to maintain the level of wages and protect working conditions. There are now once again some signs that general combativeness is rising. Unions are the single most effective way organised workers can counter the bosses. Workers who risked their lives during the Covid pandemic and are now suffering from a cost of living crisis not of their making say they deserve substantial pay raises, and are prepared to go on strike to try to get it. Employers can no longer expect their workforce to compliantly roll over and be strong-armed into conceding cuts in wages and conditions. Increasing numbers of workers across all sectors are saying enough is enough. The current labour shortage means they have a bit more leverage. It has got the bosses worried.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government intends to introduce new laws that are aimed at trade union industrial action by insisting key workers must maintain essential services during any strike. The government wants to make it more difficult for ordinary working people, firefighters, nurses and teachers to express their democratic wishes and to take industrial action in defence of their jobs and pay. Make no mistake. The government’s legislative plans are an assault in the class war on workers’ ability to resist the employers’ offensive. Trade unions are workers’ front line of defence against their employers under capitalism.

The legislation will permit employers to sue unions and sack employees if legal minimum service levels are not met. Union members who are instructed by the employers to work and refuse to do so could lose their jobs. The new law will also back employers bringing an injunction to prevent strikes or seeking damages afterwards if they go ahead with unions facing court actions and possible sequestration of funds.

When workers strike or work to rule, the bosses find out who really runs the workplace, who keeps the machines humming, production going, and the money flowing. But that said, it’s important to clarify that the employers have the power of the state behind them and when push comes to shove, they do not hesitate to bring that powerful institution to bear upon the workers. In addition, most workers have practically no savings, so cannot afford to stop working for long.

Hence the strategy of a series of short strike stoppages. Adapting to match the new reality, rather than calling for a general strike, individual unions seek to coordinate their actions for increased effect. Solidarity is one of the greatest weapons we possess. Many workers are realising that it is the worker and the worker alone who has to take care of their economic interests, as they’ll get nothing from the politicians who fill parliamentary seats and cabinet posts or the bureaucrats in their professional union posts.

When the government goes on the offensive against workers on behalf of the capitalist class, this may lead workers’ organisations to more radical actions, to the capitalist society exposing its class nature, to the general public opening up to revolutionary ideas, and consequently, to the class struggle becoming conscious and political rather than just defensive and economic.

To be sure, participation in strikes does not automatically make workers class-conscious. Even when workers acquire revolutionary consciousness they are still compelled to engage in the non-revolutionary struggle. As workers we fight in the here and now, where we are and where we can. We don’t see such day-to-day struggles as a diversion.

Our preferred trade union strategy is to be active in unions where they exist, but not to do it with a parochial perspective but with a class-wide viewpoint that involves all groups in society that have no opportunity to participate in unions and to engage them as much as possible in a conscious class struggle. The strike weapon is not a sure means of victory for workers in disputes with employers. There are many cases of workers being compelled to return to work without gains, even sometimes with losses. Strikes should not be employed recklessly but should be entered into with strategy in mind.

Socialism demands the revolutionising of the workers themselves. This does not mean that workers should sit back and do nothing, the struggle over wages and conditions must go on. Workers are learning the hard lessons and it is becoming clearer that this is a secondary, defensive activity. The real struggle is to take the means of wealth production and distribution – the factories, farms, offices, mines etc. – into common ownership. That is the larger, political struggle.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Pathfinders: Sky high and ocean deep (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do we really need this? Is it sustainable? Two questions that capitalism never seriously asks. At present the only question that matters is, can we make money out of this? All other considerations currently fall outside the projected calculation matrix, as an average CEO might blandly put it. And two recent news stories offer an illustration of this.

British news media were cock-a-hoop last month to report a home-grown ‘space industry’ story with the planned horizontal launch from Newquay in Cornwall of a suite of satellites via a rocket attached to one of Mad Dick Branson’s old Virgin jumbo jets ( ‘What people have seen is a small team deliver something quite incredible’ puffed the breathless CEO of Spaceport Cornwall, speaking live from the Mission Control shed just before the mission pancaked.

What they were planning on delivering was nine shoebox-sized satellites whose various space-based functions were such that their owners were willing to shell out hefty launch fees. It’s a burgeoning market, and other space freight companies in Shetland and Sutherland in Scotland are also keen to get in on the action. If Elon Musk can send mega-rockets to the moon, they ought to be able to manage a shoebox or two. Sadly the mission to hurl yet more space junk into orbit failed on this occasion, but the heroic British pioneers won’t be deterred from making future attempts.

As of January 2022, there were an estimated 8,261 satellites orbiting the Earth, of which 42 percent are already defunct ( But that’s small potatoes compared to the ‘mega-constellations’ of miniature CubeSats being planned by firms like SpaceX and OneWeb, which intend to upchuck around 65,000 in the next few years. Space tech is ‘dual use’, i,e, civilian and military, and the key military advantages of CubeSats are cheapness (especially when launched via reusable SpaceX rockets), small size, replaceability and proliferation, making them nearly impossible for an adversary to knock out. Elon Musk’s own Starlink system is being relied on by Ukrainian forces, meaning the Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX boss is now also in the war business and with such influence that he has personally vetoed Starlink operations over Crimea (

Being nearer the ground, low-orbit off-the-peg CubeSats mean lower-latency (i.e, faster) connections than high-orbit heavy-duty satellites, while the swarm numbers mean near-comprehensive global internet coverage. A comparatively minor consideration is the predicted increase in visual ‘noise’ for astronomers ( ). But what’s sickening from a socialist perspective is that it’s not just one constellation to be shared by everyone, as would be the case in socialism, it’s multiple duplicate systems, because each competing state wants its own GPS and communications networks in space and does not want to rely on another’s satellites any more than on another’s energy supplies. One of socialism’s medium-term goals will probably be the challenge of hoovering up all this redundant and dangerous space scrap.

Meanwhile, you may be aware that the sea floors of the world are carpeted with small, potato-like polymetallic objects known as manganese nodules, first discovered in the 19th century and in July this year set to become a red-hot-button topic.

Imagine you are out for a walk in the wilds, on a break from your capitalist employment, and you happen across a huge wishing pond that is magically packed with a treasure trove of ancient gold denarii, duckets and dubloons. There is no sign saying Private Property – Keep Out. A quick check on your smartphone reveals not only that this pond doesn’t belong to anybody, but also that there is no mention of it in any statutes or local by-laws. Understandably, you’re keen to fill your boots with as much plunder as you can carry away. In fact, seeing as there are no rules, you might as well hire a mechanical digger to plough the entire pond right up, and make yourself a fortune. But as you start dialling the machine hire number, strong hands grab you by the arms and a voice says ‘Alright matey, not so fast, we were here first’.

Such is the situation with manganese nodules, found in gigantic quantities on sea beds in international waters. They are a potential bonanza for capitalist manufacturing, containing not just manganese, but also nickel, copper, iron, cobalt, titanium, silicon and aluminium among others, elements of immense importance in steel production, EV car batteries and other green tech. Average metallic content varies (15 – 30 percent), and a ballpark valuation for this content is given as $484/tonne ( The potential global supply of nodules was estimated in the 1980s at roughly 500bn tonnes. At a minimum 15 percent average metal content, one could be talking about an industry worth upwards of $36tn.

Given this, you may wonder how come the gold rush has not already started. In effect, the lack of rules has resulted in a default Hands-Off stalemate as governments and UN regulator the International Seabed Authority have stalled for 20 years over a common regulatory framework, even though a clause in the existing 2000 treaty gave them just two years to create one. Mining companies are slavering to have at the prize, and equally keen to stop each other getting a head start. Now one company, in league with the Pacific island of Nauru, has announced that, if no regulation is in place by the end of the two-year period in July, they are technically entitled to send in the submarine bulldozers, and devil take the hindmost ( A strip-mine frenzy will then ensue as the sea floors of the world, whose species, habitats and bio-environments are barely known at all, face a holocaust. The effects of this on global oceanic ecosystems together with the irrevocable loss of species and new science cannot even be guessed at. Governments, who have failed to do anything to fix climate change since the first COP in 1995, have until July to fix this. Don’t hold your breath.

This is not to say that a socialist society would never mine seabed nodules under any circumstances, any more than saying it would never launch a satellite. Humans use the resources of nature all the time, and this is an abundant source of extremely useful metals. But first it would ask the two questions we started with. It may be that in socialism we can devise green tech that does not require so much mining, or even devise acceptable social arrangements that don’t require so much green tech. But in capitalism, nobody even asks. If it’s not about the profit, it’s not part of the equation.
Paddy Shannon

Editorial: Doom and gloom? Think again (2023)

Editorial from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 2020 the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year was ‘doomscrolling’, ie, masochistically tormenting yourself with an endless diet of bad news. As several articles in this issue show, some groups tend to ‘catastrophise’ capitalism, which can only lead to a doomscrolling feedback loop.

A recently published 80-year study suggests that 50 percent of our general mood is genetic, 10 percent due to circumstances, and 40 percent within our conscious control ( Given that depressed people don’t go out and change the world, we think it’s more useful to be positive.

There are signs that attitudes are finally changing. People are starting to realise that the market system is not some innocent bystander in the environmental, economic and social chaos, it’s the cause of the chaos, and it’s making the chaos worse. Commentators like George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg make no bones about capitalism’s responsibility for climate change and species extinction. If public opinion were a court of law and capitalism in the dock, chances are it would be found guilty by a thumping majority.

On top of that, there’s a slew of new books out in the past few years proposing a life after capitalism and reviewed in this magazine, many of them practically making our case for us. We are no longer the lone voice we once were. Socialism seems to be catching on.

Things we say that used to astonish people are now generally regarded as common knowledge. It’s almost a truism to say that wars are about money or resources, not principles. It’s a mere commonplace to hear talk of rampant inequality, oligarchs and the 1 percent. Many people now agree that Labour and Tory, indeed all capitalist parties, are essentially the same. No serious person any longer denies that human-caused global warming is a real and serious threat. Even mainstream media sources now accept that China is not really communist, but actually capitalist as we said all along, and many young people are realising that ‘socialism’ isn’t the dirty word they were told it was. And now, strikes everywhere are proving that the working class has not surrendered in the class war, despite all attempts by capital to crush the resistance out of it.

We’re not there yet by any means, but there are plenty of reasons to think the global zeitgeist is shifting in our direction. And with modern technology, it’s never been easier for word to spread. So if there was ever a time to stop being negative, get off your butt and start helping to mainstream the socialist case, it’s right now, before capitalism really does do something our societies can’t survive. Create podcasts or videos for YouTube or TikTok, write leaflets or articles, put out messages or memes on Facebook and Twitter, help organise an online or local town meeting, and get someone you know to read this magazine.

Do it now. You’ve got nothing to lose. But you do have a world to win.

Those Who Fish in Troubled Waters (1945)

From the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1847 Marx and Engels threw the Communist Manifesto at the feet of the capitalist world.

In less than one hundred years the Socialist movement has made its voice heard and its presence felt in every country on the planet.

The manifesto commenced with the statement, “A spectre is haunting Europe”; to-day in 1944 we can say without exaggeration that the spectre is haunting the ruling class, not only of Europe, but of every land, and awakening everywhere to conscious activity the oppressed and suffering proletariat. Socialism to the capitalist class is the phantom that beckons them to their grave: to their tortured wage slaves. Socialism unfolds the glorious promise of a new and brighter life.

In a modern war the working class are so fixed by moving circumstances they are compelled to fight the enemies of their enemies; there is no escape from this until the wage slaves beeome conscious of their class position, and fully comprehend what is involved in the slogan, “Working men of all countries, unite.”

The war will undoubtedly speed up the economic development of capitalism, but will it assist us in our task of educating those who live by selling their labour-power to an understanding of what they are called upon to do ?

A letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph of December 1st which should be carefully studied by all those who are interested in the answer to the above question. The letter is headed “Wounds of Paris,” and contains among other things the following : —
“But, in France, the worst damage is invisible : it has been done to the soul of the nation. The passionate desire to get rid of the abhorred presence of the enemy has compelled the French to make use of all sorts of deceit and cheating in their relations with the aggressor. In an invaded country such foul play is perfectly legitimate, for the ethics of war widely diverge from those of peace. In war the crime of killing one’s fellowman is not only condoned but rewarded.

These normally pernicious habits, however, gradually permeate a man’s mind until they become ingrained and can, at best, only be eliminated gradually and very slowly. Men and women who, by sheer force of circumstance have grown used to violating daily the laws of human decency in their relations with the enemy are bound to resort to them in their dealings with their compatriots and their Allies. This, of course, applies particularly to the young who have never known anything better and whom it will be extremely difficult to nurse back to sanity.
—Yours, etc.,
F. Boillot, 
Member of the French Provisional Consultative Assembly, Paris.”
Socialism cannot be brought into being by a political party composed of individuals who hold the view that the end justifies the means. A society composed of men and women who consider it legitimate to lie, to cheat, and deceive each other is hardly worth while living in, as we know to our cost. The party to which we belong holds the view that it must be open and honest in all it says and does. It is heartbreaking work sometimes dealing fairly with unscrupulous opponents, but we know it is the only way to the attainment of our goal. We must make men and women into Socialists before we can bring into being a Socialist society. We have our compensation in the knowledge that what we are doing is for the lasting benefit of mankind as a whole. We can at all times reconcile our conscience with our intellect because we desire nothing for ourselves we are not prepared to allow others to obtain.

At the same time we must realise that the moral code of the exploiter is not necessarily in harmony with the interests or well being of his victim.

When we judge any action taken by a group composed of members of the wage slave fraternity we must view it from the standpoint of working class interests. The class struggle is the guide to tactics and to policy. We approve of those acts that aid in the fight against capitalism and condemn those that strengthen the power of labour’s foes. We adhere strictly to legality because, as Engels says. “We thrive on it.” The capitalist is forced from time to time to break his promises, and even the laws he is largely responsible for formulating.
“The mocking devil in his blood,
That bids him make the law he flouts
That bids him flout the law he makes.”
In Greece, France, Italy, Belgium and other countries there is at the time of writing dissatisfaction and disorder : the “liberators” are being attacked by some of those they have “freed” from the Hun—the former being accused by the latter of trying to impose a government upon them they do not want. The situation is approaching chaos.

The “communists” are reported to be very busy in these flare-ups, and there is much speculation as to whose hand they are playing. The Comintern has been dissolved, so they say; Russia is now a member of the Allies. What nation or party, then, is responsible for launching a series of activities that go so far as even to threaten civil war ? The struggle is not precipitated to attempt to establish Socialism but for the enthronement of leaders controlled by those who are pulling the strings. Greece, Egypt, Palestine and Persia are seething with intrigue, but not one of the groups involved is struggling for the common ownership of the means of life and the establishment of a system of production for use; they are all struggling for capitalist ends.

It is very enlightening to study the history of the Paris Commune of 1871. One writer described it as the rehearsal of the social revolution. The capitalist class will act to-day as they did then, should they consider it necessary. The phrase “law and order will be maintained” simply means that, unless the working class obey the decrees of their masters willingly, they will be made to do so. No ruling class anywhere will allow their workers to carry arms if there is the slightest danger of the workers using these in their own interests. Sometimes working men are forced into a position where they are compelled to fight, as in Austria some years ago : these situations develop out of conditions and the ignorance of leaders. We honour those who fall fighting honourably for what they believed to be a workers’ cause, but we deplore the circumstances which brought this about and resulted in the shedding of working-class blood. We do not hesitate, however, to denounce as criminals those individuals who take advantage of a political situation to lead workers to a bloodbath in order that those in whose employment the criminals are may benefit.

The struggle in Greece is not a direct manifestation of the class struggle. The latter is unfolding amid the confusion : out of the fermenting vat the pure spirit is being distilled.

The “communists” are accused of attempting to establish a dictatorship with their own bunch as dictators. Their opponents are trying to restore a state of things similar to that existing in Greece before the war. The proletarian wave may rise to a great height and strike a revolutionary note, but we do not think the working class in Greece will be able to obtain and retain power at the present juncture. It is true, however, that in revolution and in war men learn quickly. We are with the oppressed section, and hope a strong Socialist Party will emerge with sufficient backing to enable well informed class-conscious comrades to guide the course of events. The situation is fraught with peril. If it gets out of hand, it will be “woe to the vanquished.”

When Marx formed the First International he was asked how he and his colleagues were going to bring about ‘the social revolution’ and he replied ‘by moral and intellectual force.’ Bakunin fought Marx for the leadership. The dispute between them was in connection with the State. Bakunin took the stand that the State had to be destroyed. Marx, on the other hand, held to the view that the State had to be captured and used. Bakunin was a Jesuit—that is to say, he believed that the end justifies the means. The communists owe much more to Bakunin than to Marx. The Bolsheviks faithfully followed in the steps of Bakunin, and the tactics they adopted as a consequence enabled them to overthrow the Czar and the remnants of the feudal nobility. But such tactics are reactionary in a country where capitalism is firmly established.

In other words, a minority is unable to impose Socialism upon an unwilling and ignorant majority.

It is true the political freedom we enjoy under capitalism is limited, but it is sufficient to enable the working class to accomplish its purpose by political means in this country. We were told years ago by communists that heavy civil war was the only way of bringing into being the new social order. Here, although there may be disorder from time to time, the transition from capitalism to Socialism is likely to take place without much violence or bloodshed. With understanding, a peaceful solution is possible, and it is our duty to proceed upon peaceful lines. We keep ever before us the fact that the proletariat are enslaved because they do not understand their class position or the nature of capitalism.

Consider the position. The average working man does not even know that he sells his labour; he thinks he gets paid for his labour. If he receives what he calls a fair wage, which is at best but a bare existence, he blesses his boss and is thankful. He has not the slightest idea that he is being exploited.

Shakespeare says : —
“He that being robbed misses not that he is robbed of,
Let him not know it and he’s not robbed at all.”
How can men who ask for nothing more than work and wages abolish the wages system ? All the trade unions in this country now act in such a way as to give the impression that they have a vested interest in maintaining labour power in its present category.

It is an educational problem we have to solve. The capitalist class impose their ideas upon those they exploit; the wage slave looks at life in a similar way to his master. His conception of right and wrong is what his pastors have placed in his mind.

He knows nothing of the real history of mankind; his knowledge of history is confined to what his masters would have him believe. We cannot expect him to support us until he realises he has been hoodwinked. By honourably expounding and standing for our own principles, by conscientiously stating the truth in regard to other political parties and existing conditions, we gradually make headway. Enthusiasm for the cause and the fellowship of those who support it compensate in no small measure for the woes we struggle through. Socialism has an ennobling influence upon those who work for it; its appeal is to the best that is in them both in an intellectual and moral sense. When it leavens the whole working class movement, as it will do, we shall have done our duty ! The workers will be so conscious of their manhood and worth that they will respond to the call of history and carry out the task that is exclusively theirs.

Marx says : “Even when a society has got on the track of the laws governing its social development, it can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles that stand in the path, but it can shorten the birth pangs.”

Many things happening in Britain indicate that an ever-increasing number of observant and thinking persons are beginning to see the fundamental cause of our social problems. The result will be a conscious effort in the right, direction. Human society will not perish; like every other organism, it will struggle to maintain its existence. It can only do so by adopting a higher form. We may be at the beginning of a revolutionary period—a revolutionary period is a period in which evolutionary process can be perceived.

We have perhaps built better than we knew. In less than one hundred years Socialism has transformed the outlook of the thinking section of mankind. We can await confidently the consequences of the ideas we have helped to generate and spread.

Capitalism is caught in a cleft stick: those who profit by the system are becoming ever less; those who will benefit by its overthrow are for ever increasing in numbers. When society as a whole knows where it is heading for, it won’t take long to get there.
Charles Lestor

Saturday, February 4, 2023

A Study in Social Importance (1945)

From the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Daily Express, November 30th, we read of how Earl Poulett complained in the House of Lords about the time he and his missus were travelling by train from London to Scotland. Three persons in all occupied their compartment. It is possible to guess how many occupied the other compartments from the story. The train stopped at a station. A British officer approached with two prisoners, took over the compartment., and ejected the Earl and his missus.

After much pushing and squeezing the three were seated elsewhere. The Earl’s missus found it impossible. She couldn’t sit it out, so she stood it out in the corridor for the remaining five hours of the journey.

What an epic for Hollywood. The darkened train rushing through the wet, cold night. The still quiet figure in the corridor. A grim foreboding look on her face, making the gloomy shadows gloomier still. Is it surprising that her better half aired the grievance in the House of Lords?

My job as a worker takes me daily into many homes. Most of these homes are an insult to humanity. Overcrowded, inadequate sanitary arrangements, horrible hovels mis-called homes.

Let us make a call. I knock at the door. I speak as I do my business. “Good morning, Mrs. —, how is the baby?” She replies, “Not so good; his food won’t lie in his stomach and he has severe diarrhoea. I have sent for the doctor.” I express my wishes for a speedy recovery and depart. Next week I call again, put the same question. The reply is different: “Baby died in hospital.”

So I see many babies of the working class being destroyed before my eyes. Sometimes a few days’ illness; sometimes the babies struggle for weeks trying to survive.

Some quotations from the report of Sir Alexander M’Gregor, Medical Officer of Health for Glasgow, to a subcommittee of the corporation gives a clearer picture : —
“296 infants out of 522 cases died from gastroenteritis in Glasgow between the beginning of August and the middle of October.

The investigation has shown that no single specific factor can be distinguished as the cause, but two facts do emerge—that the incidence was highest where the housing conditions are the poorest, and the great majority of cases occurred in babies who were artificially fed.”— (Daily Express, November 4th—italics ours.)
296 tragedies occur in working-class homes—space dealing with it in the Daily Express, 3 inches of a column. An Earl’s wife stands 5 hours in a train—9½ inches of a column in the same paper.

Earl Poulett comments on how British soldiers after Dunkirk had to march and were squeezed into cattle trucks, and he is sure it was time our people were shown a little consideration. Exactly whom he means by our people, I leave the reader to guess. Nobody points out how the fathers of some of the unfortunate babies are busy killing the enemy while the babies are killed by the unknown specific factor at home. Sir Alexander can’t find this factor. The Daily Express is likewise mute.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not a medical authority. The Party is an authority on political economy. They know what the specific factor is. We can enlighten Sir Alexander, the Daily Express, and the working class— particularly the working class, for they alone can apply the cure.

Miserable housing, malnutrition, disease—in this case gastro-enteritis—are directly the result of poverty. To eliminate these evils, poverty must be abolished. Poverty is the specific factor.

Poverty is caused through a small minority class owning the means of wealth production and distribution; as a consequence, they also own the wealth produced by the sweat and toil of the working class. But the workers must exist, and they do—in poverty.

The cure for poverty is simple. Here are the directions on the label.

Let the working class organise for Socialism. Make use of their votes to gain control of Parliament and thus control of the armed forces. Eject the owners of the means of production from their ownership. Make the instruments of wealth production the common property of all, and the wealth produced by the community free of access to all.

Then a complete change in the economic basis of society will be achieved. Poverty and its ills, as well as war, will become for all times a thing of the past.

Editorial: What to do with the World’s Frontiers? (1945)

Editorial from the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not only the fighting men whose occupation ceases when a war ends; the same fate overtakes the armchair strategists, who can no longer recount each day where General X and Admiral Y were at fault the day before. But by an admirable principle of compensation the armchair strategists, notably those with which Labour’s “left wing” is graced, will at once be provided with another occupation for which their self-certified talent at placing and removing large masses of human beings without their knowledge and consent will specially qualify them. They will be able to unroll the maps of Europe—indeed, of the world—and tell the statesmen just how to redraw all the frontiers and solve all the problems of minorities. It will be the years of the last peace settlement all over again—but with a few differences. The same old schemes based on language, on religion, on history, and on the consent of the people concerned will be argued and criticised, statistics will be produced and disputed, and the claims of the big Powers for spheres of interest and special rights will be heard. Among the notable differences is, above all, the fact that Russia, weak and ignored in 1919, is now powerful and must be treated as such. So the Russian spokesmen no longer talk the language of Lenin, of “no annexations” and “self-determination.” Instead, we find Mr. W. P. Coates, of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee, in a discussion about Poland’s frontiers, quite frankly proclaiming that what Russia has she holds :—
“The Soviet Union has already re-incorporated all the territories up to the Curzon Line. Soviet administration has been established in those territories, and no power under heaven can alter that fact, so that’s that.”— (Letter to Forward, November 11th, 1944.)
This is, of course, only the customary attitude of all capitalist governments when they believe themselves possessed of sufficient force to make their policy effective, and the gulf that lies between modern Russian policy and the early professions of the Bolshevists can be seen from another letter written by Mr. Coates, in which he actually threw in as a reason why Russia should have certain territory until recently held by Poland, the alleged fact that “it was originally Russian territory and was seized by Poland during the Tartar invasion of Russia in 1340.” (Times, December 22nd, 1944.) Yes, 1340 is the date mentioned !

We wait to learn that the Communist Party is going to claim back America for the British Empire, recall the descendants of Caesar to London, put back the Moors in Spain, and make a few other changes based on what happened 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

However, let us make our attitude clear. We have no scheme for drawing frontiers or solving minority problems. We recognise the fact that many people are much concerned with religious or language or other differences, but we do not believe that these are the cause of national friction and hatreds. If one Power wants oil or some other mineral that happens to be within the territory of a weaker Power, no doubt it is a very useful propaganda weapon to recall what happened in 1066, or to work up agitation on religious or language grounds, but these are the excuses; the cause is the capitalist lust for profit. The propaganda would rarely range more than a ripple but for the alleged economic interests that are woven into it. It is capitalism that causes the poverty of the mass of the population, on both sides of all frontiers, and it is capitalism that threatens the worker always with unemployment: but how convenient it is for the capitalist to hold up the foreigner as the cause of it all ! If the foreign worker stays at home we are told he is destroying “our” industry by his cheap labour. If the foreign worker happens to be a minority group inside the frontier, he is taking “our” job and is moreover helping some foreign Power. If a man who speaks our language is in a minority group in some other country, he is told he can only find prosperity and happiness by agitating to rejoin the land of his fathers.

The problem of making all countries fit for all people to live in will not be solved by shifting frontiers. The new attempt will be just as faulty as the much lauded attempt after the last war. When there is no longer a profit-seeking privileged class to bedevil relationships between peoples, and when there is no exploited class to suffer poverty and unemployment, the frontier problem will be solved, but that means Socialism and no frontiers.

By The Way: Canadians on Germany (1945)

The By The Way Column from the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canadians on Germany

The Canadian Army newspaper, The Maple Leaf, has conducted a poll among Canadian troops now fighting, on post-war treatment of Germany.
“Less than ten per cent, suggested the partition of Germany, and less than ten per cent, the separation of Prussia from Germany”.—(Daily Herald, January 3rd, 1915.)
The Maple Leaf’s comment was: —
“The whole wipe-out-the-German-nation idea is knocked on the head by these men. Many even mentioned this idea and pointed out that they considered it absurd and impossible. . . . There is a general impression among these fighting men that any term of war debt in money or any partition of Germany is very likely to lead to another war !”
Everybody who does a job of work for a living knows how quickly one’s pre-conceived notions of a particular job vanish when you come up against the job itself.

Perhaps if Lord Vansittart and one or two others (Pollitt & Co., etc.) had a few weeks fighting at the front, it might alter their ideas.

* * *

More Belt Tightening

“Two of our large banks, Barclays and the District, report larger profits in 1944 than in 1943. Barclays’ net. figure has improved from £1,584,000 to £1,673.000, and the District Bank from £434,000 to £449,000. In each case the dividends remain unchanged. Barclays Bank are paying 10 per cent. on the ‘A’ and 14 per cent, on the ‘B’ and ‘C’ stocks, and the District Bank 18⅓ per cent. on the ‘A’ and ‘C’ shares and 10 per cent. on the ‘B’ shares.”(News-Chronicle, January 5th, 1945.)

“Midland Bank profits for 1944 have passed the Two million mark for the first time since 1939. The figure is £2,038,274, against £1,984,396 for 1943. Dividend is maintained at 10 per cent.

“Westminster Bank profits are up. Dividend remains 18 per cent. on the £4 shares, and 12½ per cent. on the stock.

“‘Big Five’ aggregate profits for the year are 4.1 per cent. higher—£8,004,602—a new war peak.”—(Herald, January 10th.)

“Lend to the End” (18 per cent.)

* * *

Can We (?) Afford It?

A spate of writings on this theme is now filling the columns of the public press.

The end of the European war is alleged to be in sight, though some of the optimists (as usual) seem to be equipped with conveniently powerful telescopes.

We are approaching the period when the rosy promises of the early days—”jobs, homes, security,” etc.—made to induce war-enthusiasm, are beginning to fall due.

It’s the “morning after the night before.” The first ominous grey shadows of a frigid winter’s morning to dispel the romantic illusions of Churchillian radio rhetoric.

Members of Parliament, professors and “experts” are vieing in the attempt to calm the people down. “Don’t expect too much !” The things we want have got to be paid for! “There isn’t the money!” “How can we do it? Can we afford it? ” is their monotonous refrain.

Imposing arrays of figures are cited showing how poor WE (?) really are.

“By a great act of faith, we have mortgaged our, as yet, non-existent national income with colossal charges for education and social services. . . . Two questions at once arise. Can we stand this staggering expenditure? Will we stand it?” asks Captain Gammans, Tory M.P. for Hornsey.— (Evening News, December 27th, 1944.)

The “staggering expenditure” referred to is Two thousand millions a year. The current expenditure for 1944, according to Capt. Gammans himself, is Three thousand millions.

The plain simple man might well ask, “If we can stand it in 1944, why not 1947 or 8?”

But, no! it’s not so simple. You see, war-time is “abnormal.’
“What are the things on which we have set our hearts? They are social security, a greatly improved medical service, an educational system which will enable a poor child to enjoy the same advantages as a rich one. family allowances, good houses for everyone at rents they can afford, and on top of all these, and other things I have not mentioned, we are to achieve a rising standard of living”.—(B. Seebohm Rowntree,  Evening Standard, November 30th.)

“Economists tell us that to pay for them we must increase our exports by 50 per cent, above the pre-war figure, but we can only do this if we can sell our goods in the world markets at competitive prices.”— (B. Seebohm Rowntree.)

“The first is that we succeed in restoring a sufficient volume of export trade to provide for the essential imports, without which we do not eat or remain an industrial power at all. The second is that our industry and agriculture are efficient”—(Capt. Gammans.)
Our readers will see at once that we have two bright new boys for the “Export or Bust” chorus, now being produced at colossal expense, in inglorious Technicolour, by the British capitalist class.

They are bright new boys—both of them—because they have thought up one or two new ghost stories to curdle the blood of the British working man.

First, Mr. Rowntree (we’re glad his cocoa is a bit more nourishing than his arguments) : —
“Let us make no mistake. We cannot get these things merely by a redistribution of existing wealth; a little may be possibly got that way, but by far the greater part of the cost involved, which may run into hundreds of millions of pounds a year, can only be met bv increasing the total amount of wealth produced.”
Now Capt. Gammans : —
“If we were to confiscate every income of over £1,000 a year and distribute it among the rest of the community, each person in this country would benefit to the extent of only about 3s. 9d. a week.”
This is a perfectly simple straightforward proposition as old as the hills. It will be found in “Value, Price and Profit,” by Marx, published seventy years ago. It was the argument of Citizen Weston. He said, as Marx graphically put it, that “what prevented working men getting more out of the bowl (of soup) was its smallness.” Marx called this argument “rather spoony.” Interestingly enough, F. A. Ridley in the New Leader and Michael Foot in the Daily Herald say the same thing.

Ridley is supposed to be writing about Socialism and Equality. He actually writes: “Under Socialism everyone would get exactly the same.” (New Leader, September 2nd, 1944.) This is nonsense. Ridley goes on : —
“The extreme left—anarchists, S.P.G.B., etc.—will demand the application of the classic formula, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ . . . ‘To each according to his needs’ is an Utopian formula … it outstrips the present capacity of society.”
In other words, workers go short because there’s not enough. By the way, the S.P.G.B. is not the “left,” extreme or otherwise, but THE Socialist Party.

Lastly, Michael Foot (Daily Herald, January 9, 1945) :
“Now the subtle point about all this propaganda is that part of it is true. It is true that many British industries are hopelessly inefficient. It is true that an increase in production per man hour could, under certain other conditions, greatly increase the wealth of the community.”
So, according to Ridley, industry has not the “capacity”; to Foot, it is “inefficient.”

The bowl is too small. Seventy years ago Marx said that it was not the “narrowness of the bowl nor the scantiness of its contents” (“Value, Price and Profit,” Chap. II.), but the smallness of their spoons which prevented working men getting a larger portion.

The Government has now published figures of war-time production. The increase in production of wealth, despite war difficulties, is simply staggering. Despite the fact that some things (aeroplanes, e.g.) are produced in quantities for which no pre-war criterion exists—it is not unfair to say that, generally speaking, production has more than doubled, while workers’ consumption has been more than halved. (“Statistics relating to the War Effort of the United Kingdom,” Stationery Office.) It has never been the Socialist case that a redistribution of existing wealth would solve the poverty problem under capitalism.

Reference to our pamphlet “Socialism” (page 9) shows that:—
“Even with the present wasteful use of the productive forces there is enough wealth produced to raise the standard of living of the great mass of the population. Mr. Colin Clark, M.A., in his recent book, “The National Income, 1924-31,” estimates that if the total national income were equally distributed, every family mould have received about £349 during 1929, £311 during 1930, and £298 during 1931. These amounts are equal to about £6 14s. a week, £6 11s. a week, and £5 13s. a week for the years in question. In point of fact, they got about half this sum.”
Now, with production more than doubled, despite the absence’ of millions of the most fit, we’re told we are not producing enough to go round.
“The great inequality of income is, moreover, only one aspect of the poverty problem. Capitalism not only bestows on the rich a large share of the wealth produced, but—even more important—it keeps the total amount of wealth produced far below the possible total.”— (“Socialism,” page 10.)
This is the answer to Capt. Gammans (Tory), Seebohm Rowntree (Liberal), Michael Foot (Labour), F. A. Ridley (I.L.P.).

The abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of wealth production will remove the “chocks” from under the landing wheels of the productive system.

What has happened during this war, where the amazing capacity of a modern working class has been demonstrated, due to temporary, insatiable military demand, is a slight indication of what that working class can do, relieved of exploitation, and with the end of futile occupations like advertising, and fighting for and waiting on parasites.

We Socialists are not to be frightened by horror stories about whether WE can afford it.

We shall not be led up the garden path of renewed fierce competition and rivalry to export more than our American and German brothers, leading to a new war.

To-day we can make our bowl of soup as large as we like—once we’ve knocked the shovels out of the capitalists’ hands by intelligent political action—and issued everybody with a spoon.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Bankruptcy of Liberalism. (1931)

Book Review from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Liberal Economist on the Problems of Capitalism

In his book, “The Problem of Industrial Relations” (MacMillan & Co., 1929), Professor Clay maintains that the “problem of industrial relations” is how to secure harmonious relations between worker and employer, how to find “an adjustment of the interests of employers and employed, that will secure the co-operation of both in the work of production” (page 3). The present order of society riven into two conflicting classes, the owners of the means of living-and the non-owners, he accepts without question. He admits that industrial unrest arises from the conflict of interests between employer and employed, and he is concerned with reducing to a minimum the economic friction between these two classes.

His main thesis is that inequality of wage rates, intensified during the war period, as between one trade or industry and another, is largely responsible for industrial disputes, and that attention should therefore be directed towards “the equalisation of bargaining strength among all sections of wage-earners,” either by the lower-paid workers themselves organising in Trade Unions, or by Government regulations to prevent sweating, so that all sections of the working class can obtain a “fair wage.” He devotes several chapters to a discussion of the spread of Trade Unionism during the War, and the growth of arbitration and conciliation methods—Trade Boards, Whitley Councils, Joint Industrial Councils, Works Committees, Industrial Courts of Arbitration, and so forth—means of negotiation which enable a trial of strength between organised employers and employees to be made, or, as Clay says, “interpret the interplay of economic and social forces” (p. 231) and so enable wage disputes to be settled without strike or lock-out to interrupt the flow of profits to the capitalist.

To the Socialist, however, the problem is not one of ensuring that the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but of waking the working class up to understand the economic and social forces which make them wage-slaves. So long as the means of wealth production and distribution are privately owned by the capitalist class, so long will the labour power of the propertyless worker be a commodity which he must sell for the best price he can get according to the fluctuations of supply and demand. Whether at any particular moment he gets “fair” wages or foul, the fierce competition arising from ever-present unemployment prevents wages in the long run from exceeding the cost of living a shoddy life. As stated in one of the reports of the Whitley Committee on the machinery of industrial conciliation, which Clay quotes, “. . . such machinery cannot be expected to furnish a settlement for the more serious conflicts of interest involved in the working of an economic system primarily governed and directed by motives of private profit” (p. 150). The remedy for this problem is for society to own the means of production, and to produce for use.

At some length, Professor Clay tries to show that “wage rates and unemployment are correlatives; if a wage rate is too high, it will cause unemployment” (p. 245), and that “it is no kindness to fix wage rates above the level set by an industry’s capacity to pay wages and still employ its labour” (p. 192). He holds that “normal” unemployment is mainly due to the wrong distribution of labour force; and the present abnormal unemployment he attributes to the War, which enhanced the maldistribution of labour force and removed a part of England’s markets. He therefore advocates that wages should, in some cases, be lowered, so that lost markets may be recovered from foreign competitors.

The old story of more work and less wages to recapture lost markets! The standard of living in Germany is a little lower than in England, and there are 3,000,000 German workers unemployed ; the standard of living in America is a little higher than in England, and the number of unemployed American workers has been estimated at about 7,000,000. Unemployment is increasing in Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, and elsewhere. In all these countries the employers’ journalistic and academic servants are urging the workers to work harder for lower wages, in a world glutted with products which cannot find buyers, whilst in many branches of production desperate efforts are being made to restrict output !

Unemployment is an inevitable feature of capitalism, and its tendency is to increase. Dealing with American unemployment, The Times (August 8th, 1930) says:
“It is beginning to be realised at long last that even if a recovery in business on a scale no longer thought probable should occur, it would not go very far to solve the unemployment problem. Throughout the years of fabulous prosperity that preceded the crash of last autumn unemployment was steadily increasing. The same processes of technological change, including the rapid substitution of capital for labour in industrial and agricultural production, were going on before the crash, are going on now, and will continue.”
Professor Clay recognises the increasing insecurity of “the propertyless worker, whether unskilled labourer, responsible organiser, or scientific expert” (p. 270), but fails to suggest the logical remedy. Only when the means of production are commonly owned and democratically controlled by the whole community will the application of science to production cease to divide the vast majority of mankind into the over-worked and the unemployed. “Meantime,” says The Times (July 29th, 1930), “rationalisation and unemployment are both increasing.”

Clay’s attempt to show that the various forms of public relief and social insurance increase the real income of the working class is really funny. First, he says that since these social services are paid for with money provided by taxation, and practically all the wage-earners fall below the income-tax exemption limit, then “the aggregate expenditure on social services is in the main an addition to the real income of the class that draws wages” (p. 2i7). He forgets that these social services, by lowering the cost of living, also tend to lower the workers’ wages in a labour market where there are always more men than jobs. Lord MacMillan, in making his report on woollen wage reductions, pointed out that social services such as pensions, insurance, etc., should be taken into consideration in fixing present-day wages. And Lord MacMillan was only stating explicitly a principle already being put into operation by the employers generally.

Clay himself gives figures showing that during the period from 1880 to 1914 real wages were falling whilst expenditure on social services was increasing; and points out that “the increase in expenditure . . . has followed, and to a large extent compensated for, the check to the rise in real wages.” Finally, he concludes that the effect of these social services “was to change the form, without altering the amount of wages. They ordained that the worker, instead of getting all his earnings in weekly wages, should get a part in the form of rights to income in sickness and unemployment, . . . (they) secured a better distribution of the wage-earner’s income, reducing it when he was working, but insuring thai it did not cease when he was unable to work. Wage-earners could have made a similar provision for themselves, as some of them did, through Friendly Societies and Trade Unions” (p. 219).

His chapters on the distribution of property are a plea for the small property-owner, and he gives many useful facts and figures with regard to the distribution of wealth in this and other countries. He shows that the total value of the properly left by 97,000 rich people who died during the year ending March, 1921, was £431,000,000. an average of nearly £4,300 per person, whilst “five-sixths of the population may be presumed to have less than £100 property each.” He asks, “How many working-class homes would have fetched more than £20, if sold up, before the War?” (p. 286). He also shows that alongside the increasing inequality of wealth has proceeded a change in its composition, contractual rights to money payments taking the place of real property, and this to an increasing extent in larger estates. A rich man’s estate consists largely of stocks and shares.

Clay describes this change in the nature of the right of property, brought about by capitalism, as the change involved in “the separation of the ownership and use of wealth,” by which property comes to consist not of a concrete thing but of a right to income. Before the days of capitalism, the simple tools of peasant and craftsman were their individual properly. To-day a railway shareholder cannot point to a single nut or smut as his own; but he holds a right to share in the profits. Clay shows from the Estate Duty returns that whereas house and business premises represent about 16 per cent., and land only about 9 per cent, of the total property, nearly 45 per cent, is in Stock Exchange securities; or, in other words, the largest element in property to-day is simply the claim to a share in the profits of industry, i.e., a legal right to live on the back of the working class. Clay is right in regarding this revolution in the form of property as being based on the change from puny individual production to mass production and distribution on a large scale by machinery too vast for individual ownership; but he is wrong in speaking of it as having resulted from “the separation of the ownership from the use and administration of capital.” The tools of the mediaeval craftsman were not capital. He makes the common error of confusing “capital” with “instruments of production,” which only became capital as a result of this separation of ownership from operation, by which the capitalist class, owning the means of production, can live on the wealth produced by the propertyless working class, who alone organise and operate the whole vast and complex mechanism of production and distribution.

The Professor is distressed at “the inequality of incomes, which is a chief cause of social unrest and the chief cause of waste in the modern economic system”; but he desires “the maintenance of the present right of property.” He wants property more evenly distributed, so as to check the growing inequality of wealth which threatens to engulf the small property owner and crush his “personal independence” (p. 207). He wishes to alleviate effects without abolishing fundamental causes. He wishes especially to remove those effects which injure the “middle class,” by means of some scheme of taxation “to enforce a continual re-distribution of property” for “the creation of a large independent class of small owners.” He regrets that “it would hardly be possible to frame a (scheme) . . . that would reach any large proportion of the propertyless proletariat ; but it would be easy to frame a scheme that would do something to restore the fortunes of the non-commercial, small-propertied middle class, on whom, since the aristocracy was superseded by a plutocracy, the maintenance of the finer arts of life mainly depends” (p. 313).

Thus, “economic inequality remains to be redressed,” but “no revolutionary change … is needed” (p. 317). For the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little (professorial) child shall lead them.

In his last chapter. Clay defends the Liberal Party, a Liberal Party which stands for Free Trade and freedom of enterprise, as the only alternative to “a Conservative Party that is protectionist in principle, and a Labour Party that is socialist in principle.” He advocates “freedom of private enterprise” as contrasted with the State monopoly of industry (which he imagines is Socialism); “freedom of international trade as a safeguard of international peace” ; and “a wider diffusion of property” to correct the growing inequality of wealth.

Apart from the absurd suggestion that the Labour Party is Socialist (their only service to the Socialist movement is their refusal to allow official Labour candidates to label themselves Socialist), it is very clear that Clay confuses Socialism with Nationalisation. He says: “None of the numerous varieties of Socialism could have any effect except still further to concentrate authority and subject the workers to a more detailed and complete subordination. All alike involve the establishment of legal monopolies, and are based on the subordination of the economic organisation to the State. The extinction of free enterprise by the competition and legalisation of monopoly would result in a bureaucratic inequality as oppressive as, and more difficult to control than, the present inequality” (p. 311). This is true enough if the word “Nationalisation” is substituted for “Socialism.” The nationalisation of an industry means that it is controlled, not by individual capitalists, but by the capitalist class as a whole through the Government, which is its “board of directors.” Thus Clay, thinking he is discrediting Socialism, only condemns the latest and most complete form of capitalist organisation.

He has to recognise, however, that “the extension of the State’s economic activities is necessary and will continue” although he desires “to keep the political and the economic organisation of society distinct” and “to develop international trade as a safeguard of international peace” (p. 306) ; for, he says, “we are members of an economic community . . . the boundaries of which do not coincide with those of any State.” He falls to grasp that the political division of the world into antagonistic States, when all its parts are economically dependent one upon another, is the political reflection of the contradiction inherent in capitalism; the contradiction of the social use and operation of the tools of production by the working class of the world, alongside the private ownership of these tools by competing groups of capitalists in the Great and Minor Powers.

This contradiction between social production and private ownership is the rock upon which capitalism splits. It has been the historical function of the capitalist class to bring about social production, with its enormous possibilities for human comfort and culture; it is the historical function of the working class to bring social ownership and control into line with social operation, and make these possibilities a glorious reality.
Frank Evans