Thursday, August 31, 2023

Classic Reprint: At the conscientious objectors tribunal (1964)

A Classic Reprint from the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Devine Comedy of the Watford Tribunal
Dramatis Personae

Lord Clarendon – Chairman.

Mister Hudson – Clerk to the Council.

Mister Longley – Draper.

Mister Clarke – House Builder.

Mister Solomon – Photographer.

Mister Gorle – Solicitor, Conscriptionist, Labour Leader and acquainted with the King of the Belgians.

Crowd of N.C.F Men, Comrades, Constables and attendants.

The Bushey and Watford comrades did in the month of March appear before the local Tribunal with the now familiar result.

The chairman was the Lord and the Military Representative, symbolically enough, was on the left hand of the Lord. A Draper sat next to a House Builder and a Solicitor next to a Professional Photographer.

To the right of the Lord’s chosen people were portraits of two old-time councillors done by a Bushey painter, who, when he has no commissions from local legislators, will condescend to paint angels for church windows. These pictures were as interesting to artists as pathology is to humanitarians. No cantankerous sentiment could be detected on their placid faces, for when the local man took up his brushes there was no European War and all the Conscientious Objectors had been robbed of their telescopes and books and burned and decapitated many centuries ago.

But I must not digress now for I am come to the point when the Lord spoke. I had arrogantly suggested on my appeal paper that what was valuable and precious in Art and Science and Literature had emanated from intellectual research; and that militarism either supported or created all those things hostile to a free and secure existence. Before I came to these chosen of the Masters I had suggested that intellectual progress and military pursuits are antagonistic. Then when the Lord asked me if I was a Quaker I saw that my policy and sentiments still remained misunderstood, so I rose to explain that I had accepted the communistic principles of Karl Marx, and consequently believed that the world could not progress towards a beautiful ideal of society or a scientific one until the nations federated on an amiable basis. But while these words were yet unspoken the Solicitor, with prophetic acumen and godly insight, denounced them as “Propaganda”, while the Chairman said he was there to “elicit facts and not listen to speeches”.

This last indiscreet sentence must now pass as ignorance. This is the more lamentable as had it read, “elicit facts and not listen to the evidence” it would have passed with the public, not as bias and illiteracy, but as a decisive, rich, and becoming paradox. I had further evidence to show that the literature of Greece had done more for humanity than the wars of Greece; that Van Tromp, with all his magnificence did not do so much for Holland as Rembrandt and Discartis; that the Spaniards’ best day was not when the Armada was loosened but when Valasquez took up his palette. The Lord waved me down. How could I rise from my insignificance? I only had on my side the lessons of ancient decapitated scientists and charcoal heretics while the Tribunal were greatly inspired and strengthened by the methods of Torquemada. Their actions taught me that the man with estates was in the place of Democracy; the Camera Man in the place of the Artist; the Attorney in the place of the Economist, and the Draper of Bodies in the place of the Humanitarians. Before the Tribunals the appellant with artistic ideas is dismissed, the man with rheumatism postponed, and the wine merchant exempt from military service. Then after having stopped me speaking in my own defence one had the temerity to ask if I objected to bloodshed.

Our comrade Russ sat next before the Tribunal and his case was dealt with in the same clean and aristocratic spirit. They “elicited” genealogical facts about his grandmother and partly forgotten brothers; details which are most valuable to any analysis of scientific ideals or the individual conscience. But while on the side of lineage the examination was most wise and thorough, there are three small points to which the Tribunal was inexcusably indifferent. I admit that a consideration of the forgotten details would in no way have altered the result of the trail, for in all cases the conduct of the Tribunal showed great forethought and preparation. In no instance can I remember a hasty and spontaneous injustice being done to the appellant, for the Socialists were only dismissed after careful consultation with the versatile Labour Leader, while the Religionists were dismissed only after the Chairman’s chat with the Christian member. The first of these three unconsidered trifles in Russ’s case was that he wore a black scarf of crepe-de-chine, which should have been noted by at least one member of the Tribunal for its photographic possibilities; the second, that sometimes in the summer he slept in the open at night, which should have been elicited and condemned by the Builder; the third, that as a Socialist he would not fight in a capitalist war, which should have been considered by all, as in this assertion, all were alike equally implicated and condemned. But if we review the matter with a milder and less intolerant mind we will understand that if Russ did not know what parts of his Marxian economics were a heritage from his grandmother, his own statement of International Faith is, in the ten or twelve eyes of the Tribunal, robbed of half its value. But the trial ended well, for, as he declared he would not do medical work and assist the wounded, the Tribunal considerately gave him non-combatant duties in which he will only have to help the injured.

When our comrade Hudson sat next in the chair the modern God filled his pipe and the Clerk read the appeal. It was a reiteration of the communists’ ideal of Wealth Production. The Lord asked what denomination he belonged to. Now with myself, as I have a pale face, there was some pertinence in the Quaker question, but with Hudson it is different. He is not sickly or peevish; there is not a trace of suffering on his face. It would have been more relevant to have asked the noble Lord if he was the only support his wife had or ask a poet if he sold matches. Our comrade replied that he was an atheist. The Christian Draper sniffed. A man here who would not submit to Kitchener and denied the authority. “You are one of them who resent all kind of control then, eh?” he said. “Not all control”, our comrade replied, “only such as you have.” The Chairman was indignant to hear a youthful idealist give such a retort to a shopkeeper who has sold the best linen within a farthing of a shilling in the town; to a man who has distributed more bibles and advertisements and subscribed to more church organs in a year than the applicant would do in fifty years. In these days of heresy and commerce one can forgive a taunt to God, pass over a slight to Kitchener, but what Chairman of what Tribunal can pass over an Internationalist’s insult to a homely employer. He cautioned our comrade and later dismissed the case.

The next judgement was to be upon our comrade Wilkins. He too was an Internationalist. Had the first been the only one of the day the idea could have been discredited and regarded as isolated Quixotism and futile faith. The poor, bewildered master of the show moreover learned that this Socialist was a Monist. “What is a Monist?” Alas! My Lord, you have given Oxford over to ignominy; the hallowed pile is desecrated. In the past, we were told, much damage and havoc was done with the jaw-bone of an ass, but it was infinitesimal compared with that done to the gray and hoary university with the jaw-bone of our Tribunal Lord. Alas! Poor Chairman, you came, you told me, to “elicit facts” but you remain to complete your education. Although comrade Wilkins explained on his appeal paper that he could more effectively assassinate Rothschild with a new ideal or a new economic law than with an old hatchet—although unlike an Indian God he did not wear a necklace of human bones or a girdle of human skulls, they still enquired whether he was prepared to take life. He replied that he did not believe in the sacredness of the individual existence, only in the sacredness of humanity, and would therefore help to establish Socialism by the ballot if possible but by force if force was essential. “We dismiss your case, Mister Wilkins.” As the lordly judge spoke his loyal mouth pennies to the Escutcheon. “You may appeal to the County Tribunal”, he said. “To the County Press Gang”, our comrade retorted with such truth and emphasis that it became quite inaudible to the Newspaper Correspondent.

There was a long hush. The last of the pearls had been cast before the Tribunal.

The Draper demanded that the room should be cleared of the public. This was assented to by the Labour Leader, and endorsed by the Lord.

No one moved.

Then in this Earthly Paradise the Provincial God’s still, small voice with a slight Oxford accent, said “Let there be police”, and there were police. But this latter day Lord’s behests are not so instantaneously obeyed as formerly, for his wand is only a telephone and his angels wear thick-soled boots.

So there was still time left for further heresy and the “Red Flag” was sung, and just as it ended the Constables entered the room and faced the perplexed Tribunal and those pigment Councillors on the walls, whose pensive eyes are fixed on the distant utopian Watford when each of the ten thousand inhabitants was docile and diligent and none had dreamed of Marxian Economics.
H. M. M.

(Reprinted from the Socialist Standard, May, 1916)

News in Review: Aftermath of Profumo (1963)

The News in Review column from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Aftermath of Profumo

If Mr. Macmillan is forced out and if, as now seems likely, the Tories lose the next election, we may be sure that the unhappy Mr. Profumo will get a lot of the blame for it.

This, of course, will be hardly fair or accurate, The government have been in trouble for a long time and so has the Prime Minister. Profumo's indiscretion was only the last, if the most News of the Worldish, of the events which have exploded under the Tories’ confident conviction that they could do no wrong and that there was no reason why they should not stay in power for ever.

There were good grounds for this confidence. As each political crisis was ridden, as each potentially dangerous policy was ruthlessly pushed through, as Macmillan airily brushed all criticism under the nearest carpet, the working class faithfully piled up the Tory majorities. Mac and whoever he chose for his men seemed to be unbeatable.

Now, it seems all that is to be changed and, unless after hanging on, the Conservatives can recover the ground they have lost, we shall have a Labour government next time.

If that does happen the reasons for it will be no less foolish than in the past. The working class voters will think that the Labour Party is more efficient, cleverer, perhaps morally sounder, than the Tories. They may decide that the secrets of British capitalism will be better guarded under, say, Mr. George Wigg than they have been under Mr. Macmillan. Or perhaps they will virtually give up thinking about it and simply decide, as if politics were like a game of Ludo, that it is time Labour had a turn.

Whatever the detailed reasons, if the electorate return a Labour government it will be because they are hoping for better things from them. In this hope they will be as mistaken as they were in 1945 and again twelve years ago when they changed back to the Tories. Neither of these parties—nor indeed any capitalist party—can provide the sort of world which human beings should live in.

It is a safe bet that some future journalist-cum-historian will write up a romantic, exaggerated account of the Profumo affair in which the ex-Minister of War will be given an importance out of his due. In fact, the most that he has done is to contribute a little more to the probability that the British working class, sometime in the next year or so, will change from supporting one capitalist party to another.

BTC dies

The British Transport Commission is now dead. Would there be any of its stockholders grateful enough to contribute towards a suitable memorial?

Consider the facts. Doctor Beeching has proved, says the government, that a lot of the railway system cannot make a profit. Under the Beeching regime lines have been shut down wholesale and, of course, there is the Big Chop yet to come.

Now if this sort of thing happened in a privately controlled industry the people who held stock in it would suffer. Their dividends at the least would be cut and in all probability would disappear altogether.

Not so on the railways, nor in the other nationalised concerns. The Transport Commission’s final accounts showed a total deficit for its term of life of £143.6 million, almost entirely due to the unprofitable operation of the railways. Yet concealed in this deficit was the sum of £74.4 million arising from payments of interest on stock and other central charges.

Which means that tens of millions of pounds have been paid out to stockholders, of one kind or another, from railway lines many of which were not making a profit and some of which have indeed been closed.
The story is the same in the coal industry, where the recent small surplus represented an actual operating profit of £25.4 million, when we take into account the interest which the NCB is liable to pay. And this interest, again, bore no relation to the fact that there have been widespread closures of coal mines.

Even for capitalism, this is something of an Alice-in-Wonderland story. The whole point, which is quite obscured in the regular hullabaloo over the finances of State industries, is that nationalisation basically changes nothing. The workers in State industries continue to turn out surplus value, a fair chunk of which goes out in the form of profit. For them, it is exploitation as usual.

For the capitalist class it is profits as usual. Even if the profits are unusual—and unusually generous.

The Kennedy tour

It was not, of course, just to visit the Ould Homestead that Mr. Kennedy came to Europe, although one of the uses of his tour was to make plain, by his refusal to open the Giant's Causeway and his other references to Anglo-Irish relations, his support for the cause of Irish republicanism.

The Irish part of the journey was, predictably, a pressman’s junket, with a faked up cottage, pigs dragged into the kitchen and the President taking a dish of tea with kind, puddeny Irish ma's.

Beneath this ballyhoo, Kennedy was in deadly earnest. He came to rally support for his governments European policy, which has been under some heavy fire of late. He came to put the de Gaulle concept of an independently united Europe in what Washington thinks is its place. He came to win Germany away from the temptations of the stubborn old man in Paris and to make sure that Adenauer’s successor will be receptive to American influence.

It was also noticeable that, for the usual diplomatic reasons, Kennedy did not see Harold Wilson. This gave some support to the rumours that one of the results of Wilson’s recent trip to Washington is that the American government does not look favourably upon the prospect of a Labour win at the next election. Did Wilson really give Kennedy cause to adopt this attitude? Perhaps, if Labour is returned next time, we shall find out.

The real reason for visits like Kennedy’s is all too often hidden in a cloud of newspaper nonsense. The men who meet in high conference are there to stand up for the interests of their country’s ruling class. They talk about the carve up of the capitalist world and the economic and military steps they can take to keep the carve up as they want it. They discuss the disputes which capitalism is so constantly heir to.

These men appear to hold the fate of the world in their hands. But the reality lies deeper. The working class must see this essential fact and resolve to do away with the social system which produces these leaders, their cynicism, and the perpetual threat of war.

The Bishop of Woolwich Squares the Circle (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

A great deal of attention has recently been focused on controversies within the Church of England by the publication of a book written by the Bishop of Woolwich entitled Honest to God. The book has prompted wide interest in issues basic to religion, but although this controversy has been extended within the Church itself, propositions involving the modification of assumptions fundamental to the religious outlook have been argued about for some time.

These arguments, forced upon the Church by social developments external to it, have been reluctant but inevitable, bitter and agonised. There is no doubt, however, that the publication of this book has brought these arguments under wider public scrutiny, has stepped up the intensity of the discussion, and has brought about a new phase in what is quite frankly a time of crisis for the Church of England. Its problem is how to reverse mounting indifference to it and its dogma. This may be a problem for the Church itself, which quite obviously will resent and strive against becoming a social anachronism, but in relation to the crucial social problems facing man today it is irrelevant and superfluous. The significance of the controversy is that it opens a fresh chapter in man’s long struggle to free his existence from service to outside agencies—the gods.

Of all the churches in this country, it is the Church of England that has suffered most from the erosion of what was once a compelling enthusiasm for religious activities, especially in urban areas. At least until the turn of the century, the Church of England remained a powerful force that intervened actively in the everyday affairs of the community. Quite apart from providing spiritual balm to a 19th century working class depressed by acute poverty, it was the authoritative keeper of the community’s moral conscience. It was the father confessor to an era in trouble, as well as a positive force in political and economic affairs. The pulpit was a platform, and congregations were large enough to make them worth talking to.

But since those days, the thunderous voice of the Church of England has softened to a whisper, largely ignored and unnoticed. The declamations from its pulpits re-echo around virtually empty caverns; its morality is flaunted! the soporifics that it once dispensed are now found elsewhere in more acceptable forms. But it is not a situation that has been created by mass active opposition, coherently articulated or positively demonstrated. The majority of the population are not even atheists, let alone aware and convinced of Marxist theories, but the attitude of a growing number of people is of massive indifference and crushing unconcern. The consequences for the Church are just the same. Although there is still a degree of social esteem accorded to baptisms, marriages and burials presided over by the Church, they have more significance as desirable conventions than as conscientious acts of faith; as customs they have become drained of their religious and spiritual meaning.

The steady withdrawal of active support for Church affairs does not apply in equal degree to every branch of religion in this country. Quite certainly, the Roman Catholic Church retains a firmer grip over its members than the Church of England. But there are good historical reasons for this, and whilst the Catholic Church makes it much more difficult for individuals to drift away, and although it still remains a powerful bastion of superstition based on fear and ignorance, it is unlikely either that in the long term it can resist tendencies fundamental to modern capitalism—scepticism and individual self-interest.

The dogma of the Church of England boils down to an expedient. It summed up the aspirations of a 16th-17th century trading class seeking freedom for the development of its own activities outside the influence of the establish landed interests whose political and economic power was based, at least in part, on the Roman Catholic Church and which expressed themselves in its ideology.

The Roman Catholic Church secured subservience by the weapon of tyrannical superstition. Thus its god was a tyrant and a taskmaster; a god who imposed a duty of constant adulation and who threatened wrongdoers with the nightmare penalty of eternal damnation. Beyond this, since the Church itself was the physical embodiment of God on earth, the worship of God had to be the worship of the Church. The Catholic Church’s claim was and is to be the only gateway to heaven and its followers were forced to submit to its authority on all aspects of moral and political behaviour. It involved its adherents in the agony of thorns, a hierarchy of sin, the bleeding heart of Jesus, the pain of eternally stoked hellfire and other frightening fundamentalist accoutrements of primeval religious fervour. And by means of its power over ignorant and bewildered men, it secured their economic subservience.

Protestantism then was the expedient ideological innovation of a dynamic social element which still felt the need for religious justification but which sought freedom from the authoritarian strictures of the Roman Church. Thus with the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England, a god was invoked who dispensed with the Church as a necessary turnstile between himself and his flock. A dogma was created that allowed entrance to heaven merely on the condition of belief in the holy trinity. The expedient changing of cherished beliefs is in the long-standing tradition of the Church of England, and it is not surprising that Catholicism retains a more enduring grip over its members.

As a true child of his age, and in emulation of the image-mongering techniques of advertising, the Bishop of Woolwich believes that in order to combat the growing lack of interest in the Church and Christianity, it is necessary to change the image of its god. He holds that it is no longer acceptable to think of God as some supernatural, yet objectified, reality existing “out there,” somewhere in outer space, holding omnipotent sway over a universe of his own creation. He holds that God should no longer be thought of as an external to society’s own existence, to whom individuals owe personal worship. For the Bishop of Woolwich, the idea of God represents all the best aspirations of man towards brotherhood, mutual tolerance and dedication to community interests. God to him is a force for common good inherited by contemporary man from the most obscure beginnings of history. Different from the beer-swilling vicars singing Nelly Dean with contrived yet conscientious enthusiasm, the absurd indignity of ton-up parsons, hymns sung to skiffle and other props, the ideas of the Bishop of Woolwich form the more credible substance of today’s radical theology.

The Bishop has realised that social consciousness has developed past the point of an easy acceptance of the supernatural imagery of traditional religion that sprang from social conditions in which science was in its infancy and man's technical apparatus crude. The evolving scientific culture of the space age displaces the superstitious faith of religion and reduces it to an irrelevance. It could once be truly observed and easily demonstrated that the Church was a fundamental support of capitalist society; but the order of priorities between religious faith and scientific method in a society driven towards greater technical complexity has changed all this.

Because capitalism is essentially a competitive form of society, and because this competition takes the form of struggle for commercial success both within nations and between nations, society is impelled to seek greater efficiency and productivity of labour. Thus technical change and scientific research and all the social consequences of them, including a bias towards technical education, are basic features of modern capitalist society. The fact of continued technical innovation so deeply permeates our culture that even momentous achievements are accepted with equanimity. Man lives today in an atmosphere of intense scientific enquiry which results in new discoveries daily. The means of communication are developed to a point where this new knowledge, whether it be about stars a million light years away, or the breeding habits of some obscure species of tropical fish, can be communicated immediately to all men. It is an age that emphasises the contrast between knowledge that can be proved and assumptions that require faith.

The first premise of historical materialism is that all man’s thinking is social thinking; that there is no idea that man discusses, no interest that he fights for, and no ideal that he aspires to, that is not derived from social origins. When the Bishop of Woolwich denies God a supernatural existence outside human society and uses the concept to mean a social force between them, then whether he is aware of it or not, and whether he likes it or not, he has taken a faltering but definite step into the materialist camp.

In the face of a developing scientific culture, the nature of religious belief undergoes gradual but definite qualitative change. Appropriately, it is during National Productivity Year that the Bishop of Woolwich articulates his death wish.

Even in the early 19th century, the economic structure of society was justified as being God-given, and to advocate its change was a sinful and heretical challenge to almighty predetermination. The relationship between man and God was close and personal. Earthly existence was merely a brief testing time for one’s fitness to live eternally in heaven. It was a life in the service of God rather than a life of service to self. Today, even for those who are yet religious, God is not thought of with the same awesome fear and only a few believe seriously that if life on earth is unsatisfactory, there remains the second chance in heaven. In the space age, the control of man’s destiny is gravitating from outer space to earth itself.

Where the working class accepts allegiance to religion, to royalty or the state, or accepts a false ideology or economic subservience to the capitalist class, it denies itself the realisation of its own interests. The poverty of the modern proletariat still results from the fact that its labour operates in commodity form, is bought for wages and exploited by capitalists with a view to profit. To buy a man’s labour power and set him to work is to reduce his existence to a commercial transaction and alienate his individuality.

In offering religion in more credible form to an age that is increasingly sceptical, the Bishop of Woolwich seeks to strip it of its supernatural paraphernalia and present it as an indispensable system of morals. But from the time that the Church cornered men’s superstitious fear and exploited it with declamations of nature as the created province of the almighty, it has evolved to a position where it is no longer even confident in its dogma and is reduced to weak exhortations to live in good neighbourliness and brotherly love. And even these appeals are nothing more than hypocrisy since at the same time that it spuriously wishes social harmony it condones and supports a competitive economic system whose fundamental feature is the exploitation of men by men.

The evolving technical culture of capitalist society will go on revealing the Church as more and more of an outlandish anachronism and in time will heap greater and greater embarrassment upon its dogma. Yet in spite of this and of the attempts by churchmen to modify the image of the Church and alter its social role, it will retain one enduring characteristic, that of an anti-working class institution. The Church supports the present method of producing and distributing wealth—capitalism. The ideas that it disseminates, its concepts about society, and the universe it trades in, are either irrelevant or hostile to the ideas that the working class requires to achieve its economic emancipation.

Socialists seek the universal brotherhood of men, but for the Church to sloganise ideals and in practice support a system that precludes their realisation, is a worse than hollow gesture, it erects a barrier to their practical achievement. What an organisation that genuinely aspires to social harmony on a world scale should do is relate it to specific social situations within actual experience, and discern and illuminate and explain the reasons why men now behave in a manner contrary to their mutual interests. It should argue a valid social theory and advocate a practical course for political action that offer the sure prospect of the unity of all men based on relations of genuine social equality. Only Socialists do this.
Pieter Lawrence

Struggle for power in the Tory Party (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the facts to come to the surface of the murky waters of the Profumo affair is that there is now a serious split in the Conservative party, at any rate in Parliament, over who should lead them at the next election..

For some time Tory M.P.s have been harbouring considerable dissatisfaction with Mr. Macmillan's leadership. Men like Nigel Birch, Lord Lambton and Sir Harry Legge-Bourke have made no secret of the fact that in their opinion they stand a better chance of coining back to Westminster next time under a new, younger leader. It seems safe to assume that this feeling is more widely held than the number of abstentions in the Profumo debate would indicate. There is some fairly sound evidence that many Conservative M.P.s agreed to go into the government lobby thad night only after their doubts had been stilled by a promise that Mr. Macmillan would resign as soon as it was possible for him to do so without losing too much political dignity. If this is true, then Mr. Macmillan's television announcement that he still hopes to be the Tory leader in the next election was a very fast one to be pulled. It was a typically shrewd move by a master at the game of staying in power. But more of that later.

For the moment, let us observe that another of the blows which Mr. Profumo dealt his party was that he deprived them of their cherished image of unity. It has long been a useful electoral move for the Tories to publicise the searing splits in the Labour Party and indeed Labour has had their share of them. These splits have also provided the Tories with some useful bogy men—particularly, of course, the late Aneurin Bevan. In contrast, the Conservative Party has usually seemed like a haven of peace. Nobody asking awkward questions. Nobody getting at the leader. No splits, at any rate on the surface. But now all that is gone. And to heighten the Tories' discomfort, the Labour Party now seems to be calmly united. Mr. Wilson has trod craftily since he became leader of the Opposition; his admonition to the 1922 Committee to call off their attacks on Mr. Macmillan, was typical, of his aptitude for political warfare. At this distance, Mr. Wilson seems to be one of the cleverest of Labour's post-war leaders. He seems to have pacified his Party, although he has undoubtedly been helped in this by the fact that Labour's electoral hopes are so high. Nothing concentrates the mind of a capitalist political party so much as the realisation that power is almost within their grasp. It is anybody’s guess how long this will last. If, after all their lip-smacking over the gallup polls and the by-elections, Labour lose the next election, Wilson may well get the blame and find his grip on his office considerably weaker. For the moment, it seems to he getting stronger as the days go by.

Despite the Tory split, it was always on the cards that Macmillan would not in fact go over Profumo. Clever indeed was the question, put in another context by The Economist, ". . . may the Government, or rather the Prime Minister, of Britain be about to be overthrown by a 21-year- old trollop? " How many M.P.s would answer yes to that question?

Perhaps not many Tory M.P,s would realise that in any case it was beside the point. Apart from the distressing—for the Tories—thought of Miss Keeler giving Mr. Macmillan the sack, there was the urgent question of who to replace Mr. Macmillan with. The Prime Minister has cleverly pushed all of his likely rivals out of the running. Men like Butler, Hailsham and Macleod, all of whom were once well fancied for the succession, have been sidetracked and in some ways discredited. If Britain had succeeded in the application to join the Common Market, Edward Heath may have been in line for the job. As it is, however . . . Selwyn Lloyd has been banished and into the bargain he has been held in check, his energy diverted into work like his recent instigation into Conservative Party organisation. The strongest challenger now seems to be Mr. Maudling but apart from anything else, he would operate under the handicap of leading a government full of aspirants for his job.

The fact is that Mr. Macmillan has never allowed a Crown Prince to rise from the Tory ranks. When Churchill was Prime Minister there was no serious doubt that when he went he would be succeeded by Anthony Eden. Churchill was firmly enough in the saddle to be able to tolerate this situation. In contrast, Macmillan's rule has seen a number of potential challengers rise only to fall again into comparative obscurity. This may yet be the fate of the genial Mr. Maudling. Macmillan has played this card—a strong one—for all he is worth, together with the other trumps he holds— his unprecedented election successes and the threat to dissolve Parliament, with the implied follow-up that this would mean throwing a lot of potentially rebellious Tory M.P.s to the electoral wolves. We may be sure that nothing is more calculated to dampen the fires of revolt in the well-cared-for bellies of Conservative members.

If Macmillan pulled out all his aces in the Profumo battle, it can only be because he was literally fighting for his political life. The last few years have seen his government facing a series of crises, many of which he has been able to dismiss with an audaciously airy phrase. Thorneycroft's resignation was “ alittle local difficulty." Selwyn Lloyd went because, perhaps, he was "tired." He has even tried the same trick in his latest crisis. “ I see," he said, a couple of weeks after the Profumo debate, "the Gallup Poll is going up again. These things come and go." Yet this was surely his gravest hour, with a lot of the Tory press after him and no end of whispers of even worse to come, when we knew the identity of the naked butler and of one or two other curious figures.

Perhaps the crucial point in the Profumo crisis was when the news got out that Mr. Enoch Powell and Sir Edward Boyle were considering resigning over the way the affair had been handled. This was dangerous news, because these two men could have been the gathering points for other rebellious Tories. In The Spectator of June 21st Henry Fairlie, who wrote up the story of the threatened resignations for the Daily Express, contributed a dramatic article which claimed that the story was given to him by a Conservative Member of Parliament, " . . . a source which not only was reliable but made the story credible. . .” Fairlie also gave his opinion that the impending resignations were leaked as part of a deliberate political move by his informant, a move to get Mr. Macmillan out.

This story, if true, is an indication of how deep is the split in the Tory party and how tricky was the situation which Macmillan faced. This is in no way diminished by the fact that Mr. Fairlie's informant, plotting against Macmillan on one hand, supported him in the voting on that fateful night. Mr. Fairlie, indeed, is as impressed by this as we would expect an experienced political journalist to be. “(It) only shows,” he commented, " that politicians are politicians.”

Should we, then, leave the matter there, so casually and with such a worldly cynicism? The row which is going on now in the Conservative Party, and which has been going on for so long in the Labour Party, is about one thing: power. They are all of them fighting over which policies and which leaders may give them the best chance of persuading enough people to vote for them to return them to power at a future election. It does not matter if they have no Intention of carrying out their policies. It does not matter if the leader they choose is dishonest or callous as many, in the past, we know have been. Provided they deliver the goods the policies and the leader get the support they need.

And the goods—the votes—come from the very people who have nothing to gain either way in the struggle for power. The majority of voters in this and every other capitalist country are members of the working class. They are the people who have to spend their entire lives working to build the wealth of capitalism and who make possible the very luxuries and privileges which power struggles are about. They organise and administer capitalism in all its aspects and at every level. Without their work, capitalism could not carry on. Yet although they hold this powerful position, the working class never exert it to the full. They could get rid of capitalism; yet they accept it as part of the natural order of things. Although they may not like some of the effects of capitalism, the working class generally think that there is little or nothing that can be done about them. If they lose confidence in one capitalist party they are content to put another to govern in its place. They accept the notion that capitalism’s leaders are as effective as the leaders themselves like to think. They pine for strong leaders, or clever leaders, or peaceful and humane leaders. They never reflect upon the fact that, no matter who is at the head of capitalism, it ticks over as unpleasantly as ever.

This is the human material with which Macmillan and the other politicians work. These are the people who fall for the smooth slogans and the big ads., the people who are convinced that they have never had it so good. These are the people who are fed with the newspaper revelations of the latest sordid sexual adventures of public figures. Is it any wonder that capitalism's leaders are hard and ruthless men?

One day the full story of the Profumo affair will be written and it will not make pleasant reading. It will be a story, familiar enough to us now, of lies (not just Profumo's) and double dealing. And by the time it is on the bookstalls there will have been many more scandals, many more political deals, much more ruthless struggling for power. It will probably be a best seller.

50 Years Ago: South Africa under British Rule (1963)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent happenings in South Africa, . . . in which British miners, and British soldiers, and British (!) capitalists, and British knights, and the highest of high officers of the British Crown, are concerned, show clearly enough that in all essentials, the "cultured" ones of our Western civilisation are quite as capable, given the materials, as any Portuguese half-breed in the pay of British capital, of creating a "Devil’s Paradise" of their own, with British blood and brawn, on the soil of the British Empire.

While they are busy fulminating against the "White Slave Trader" at home, they are, with brutal cynicism, crowning the blood-reeking fortunes of South African millionaires with titles. So that the political funds of the "Great Liberal Party” may benefit, they make murder respectable by covering it with the cloak of knighthood.

Those who do not know how, and at what cost of working class suffering and misery, these South African fortunes have been amassed, are invited to think over the scanty particulars here reproduced.
" 'However healthy a Transvaal rock-drill man may appear to be on his return to this country,’ Dr. Haldane told the Departmental Committee on Industrial Diseases in 1907, he will probably be dead within a year or two.' ” (“Pall Mall Gazette," 7.7.13.)

"The death rate of one section of the men who mine the gold—the machine men or rock drillers—is over 230 per thousand from one disease —miner’s phthisis—alone. Such a death rate from a single occupational disease must be unparalleled in the whole industrial world. It can only be compared with King Leopold’s Congo Free State.

"Speaking before a representative meeting of mining engineers in Johannesburg in September last Mr. Koetze, the Government mining engineer, said: 'Sooner or later every worker underground in these mines will contract miner's phthisis.'

"The practical result of commissions of inquiry have been recommendations that water be used to keep down the dust which causes the disease. These recommendations have been urged upon the mine- owners, in each case with the same result—utter callousness and neglect.”
These extracts were written by Dr. G. L. Ugmara, M.R.C.S.. LJLCP., and were reproduced in the "Morning Leader" for December 2, 1911.

It cannot be pleaded that this wholesale murder of black and white is the work of a few of the capitalists alone. It is aided and connived at by the whole master class as such.

The war which was engineered in order that the mine owners might squeeze another four millon pounds profit per annum out of the writhing and quivering carcasses of their white and black slaves was the work of a Tory administration, but it was reserved for a Liberal Government to make the Transvaal a "self- governing" colony, in order that they might be able to say when miners were to be butchered on the Rand: “ We cannot interfere". 

[From the August 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard.]

Finance and Industry: Trade Unions fears about funds (1963)

The Finance and Industry column from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trade Unions fears about funds

We hear stories from time to time about the huge funds alleged to be held by the trade unions. There are jibes about the millions of pounds held in. capitalist stocks and shares, or reassurances about how nice it is to see workers' organisations with a stake in the country's wealth.

In fact, its all a lot of irrelevant bunkum. Take the National Union of Railwaymen as an example.

At their recent annual conference the railwaymen heard some hard words from their auditor. He told them that although their total funds increased by £250,000 to £6½ million, this did not mean a thing. All this money, he said, could be wiped out “literally overnight." Most of it was locked up in investments anyway and even if these could be realised at their full value, which, of course, would be highly unlikely, it would only be enough to provide each member with less than £10.

Strike pay works out at £1 per day, hardly enough to keep a worker and his family in luxury. Ten days on strike and they would blue the lot. No wonder there were no die-hard resolutions about fighting Beeching to the last penny of N.U.R. funds!

Thus is demolished yet another of the myths about workers’ affluence. Given favourable economic circumstances under capitalism, the trade unions may be able to bargain rather more effectively. But immediately the economic climate changes for the worse, the shakiness of their bargaining position is ruthlessly exposed.

If the N.U.R. do ever decide to make a do-or-die stand against Beeching, they will need to rely upon more than their £6½ million reserves. They will find their “stake in capitalism” small and transient indeed.

Agricultural exodus

In this country agriculture has become so mechanised that now only 5 per cent. of the British population depend on the land for their living. In Germany the proportion is 15 per cent., in France, 25 per cent., and in Italy it is as high as 44 per cent.

Even in Britain agricultural workers continue to drift into the towns. Year by year the number of machines increases at the expense of men, and more and more small farmers are forced off their holdings. But in other countries, the flow is even faster, the State actively encouraging this movement by paying small farmers to leave their land or by paying grants towards the amalgamation of smallholdings into bigger farms. But it is the basic economic forces within capitalism itself, in all countries, that provide the main impetus; the peasants are forced inexorably off the land and into the towns and factories.

France is a perfect example. A few years ago it was calculated that about 100,000 people were destined to leave the land every year. Many observers thought this an exaggeration. But now the recent census has shown that this figure, far from being an exaggeration, was in fact a hopeless understatement- no less than a quarter of a million of the rural population are apparently pouring into the towns every year.

At the same time, French agriculture, like the British, is becoming more and more industrialised. Within a few years the number of tractors in the country will be the highest in the world, after the United States and Russia. Inevitably, output continues to rise, to the point where surpluses have already become a grave problem. Equally inevitably, it seems, the problem will get worse, in spite of all the French government can do to find outlets for the increased output.

There have already been many violent peasant demonstrations; this year, it looks as though there will be even more. In Brittany, there have been protests at the entry of North African potatoes whilst the home farmer has been struggling to dispose of his own production (ironically, the British farmers have been making the same bitter complaints about Breton potatoes undercutting their produce).

In the South of France, there are similar troubles over fruit and tomatoes; the production of peaches, apricots, and tomatoes promises to be higher than ever. At the same time, British farmers are already disquieted about how the French are going to dispose of their forthcoming cereals crop. They feat dumping on a large scale.

All this explains why the French government seem to be taking an easier line over Britain and the Common Market. French agriculture wants freer access to the German market and Germany refuses to budge until France takes an easier line over Britain's eventual entry into the Common Market.

We are going to hear a lot about agriculture in the months to come.

Taxation without tears

We have often commented in these columns about the folly of making wealth comparisons under present day capitalism, without taking taxation into account. Thus, although one-tenth of the population of the country still owns about nine-tenths of its wealth, the gulf seems not half so glaring if one compares incomes, and even less glaring when one compares incomes after tax.

But what is always forgotten when this argument is used to bolster up the idea of the affluent society, and of how much better off the workers are relatively in comparison with the capitalists, is the way in which our capitalists make use of the tax system to add all sorts of hidden emoluments and “perks” to their incomes. Expense accounts on the firm are only the most publicised means they have of achieving this; there are many others, all quite legal and often more rewarding.

The Sunday Times recently ran an article which showed wonderfully well what scope there is, and all above board, for this type of operation.

At the moment, there is a nice market for selling “executive aircraft” to the bigger firms. One such plane is the Hawker Siddeley H.S.125, selling at £200,000, which is hardly a bagatelle even for our bigger capitalists. But so generous are the Inland Revenue with their allowances that, over five years flying, the firm buying one of these aircraft needs actually to pay out only £35,000 for it.

Ostensibly, of course, these planes are for transporting our businessmen quickly from place to place so that they can transact their big deals and be back at their big desks the next morning. But if they alternate their business trips with the odd flip to Paris or the South of France, in company with their wives, friends, and families, who is to know? Plus the usual hotels, good food, the best wines, and any other expenses on the firm, it all works out very nicely and makes a useful tax-free addition to the annual income.

Its an affluent society alright—for those for whom it has always been affluent, the capitalist class.
Stan Hampson

The Racial Problem: Conflict in the U.S.A. (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
Our comrades in North America are making most effective use of the radio in putting over the case for Socialism. They recently broadcast a talk over WBCN in Boston on the current racial disturbances in the United States. We believe that this on-the-spot Socialist analysis will be of interest to our readers and have pleasure in reproducing it below.
It took place in Birmingham, Alabama. Thousands filled the streets, hundreds of Negroes were jailed. The police and firemen used water and vicious dogs on the marching men, women, and children who practiced, as they marched, the doctrine of non-violence. Then an agreement was reached by the Negro spokesmen and the committee of the “white power structure ” made up of a group of “white” civic and business leaders.

A week before, swarms of Negroes overwhelmed the police lines and swept through the downtown area, so state troopers were called in to reinforce the local police.

After Birmingham was quiet for a few days the “white” activists struck, They bombed houses in the dead of the night of May 10, also a motel where many of the Negro leaders were staying. The reaction was a renewed frenzied wave of emotion. Mobs roamed the streets smashing windows, overturning cabs and seeking revenge. The situation finally was subdued but not until President Kennedy sent some 3,000 Federal troops to the area and alerted the national guard.

Whether the situation in Birmingham, Alabama, breaks out anew or remains quiet, there still will be the large question that the events in that city are bringing into focus. Where is the racial problem in the United States heading?

Throughout these remarks, when we refer to Negroes, we have in mind the overwhelming majority—the exploited Negro workers. Their interests are basically as one with the workers everywhere. There is a small section of the negroes who are capitalists (some millionaires, but mostly petty capitalists) and these have a common interest with their fellow capitalists, regardless of colour, country or creed.

This is the fourth of a series and we welcome this opportunity to make our case known to you, our listeners. We have limited funds as we are supported only by our membership and sympathizers. However, we are expending our funds and our energies in this manner because we seek your attention and your support.

Capitalism is beset with all kinds of problems. Last week we focused our attention on war, and we would be pleased if those who listened would communicate with us so that we might know how you feel. Tonight we will deal with the Racial Problem.

We maintain that it is not enough to be informed. It is important to have a point of view. We cannot be indifferent to our fellows having segregation forced on them, treated like inferiors, denied equal opportunities, and worse. We maintain that prejudice is basically economic. There are more than twice as many Negro workers unemployed as there are so-called White workers out of work. The question of racial discrimination is rooted m economic prejudice.

Why are more Negroes unemployed? Why is there an unemployment problem? It is our thesis that unemployment is inexcusable. That the profitability of the capitalist arrangement is dependent on having unemployment, as well as on other factors. The employers need a reserve army of men and women out of work for two good reasons:
  1. In order that those who are working will properly respect their jobs and fear the loss thereof, and
  2. To keep wages in check.
Supply and demand would send the price of labour-power (wages) soaring if there were not millions of workers looking desperately for job openings. For the capitalists it is a good thing to have their workers hungry and apprehensive and not too independent. This, incidentally, is another illustration of the conflict of interests that separates society into classes.

What does the worker want? He wants employment . . . steady . . . at top pay.

What does the boss want? He wants a labour pool available in order to select his workers and at wages that are as low as possible. The more workers competing for each job, the lower will be the rate that the employer will have to pay.

And the thing that marks off our contemporary times is the wholesale introduction of automation. What does this do? It throws out of work and into the street those workers whose skills are displaced by these new monster machines. The expression in economic statistics is no longer unemployment, but—disemployment. In the steel industry alone hundreds of thousands are out of jobs and due to these new methods and machines they will never be recalled. These new processes in the mass production industries that displaced labour (which, of course, is the primary reason for their introduction) have now created a level of unemployment that has remained constant for many years. It will go higher, it cannot go lower.

Now it seems that we have strayed from our subject. Not so. As a matter of practice the first group to be affected by disemployment is the unskilled worker. As a matter of reality, the Negroes make up a large percentage of the unskilled population. And the viciousness of the circle becomes even more acute because the Negroes are the first and the worst affected. They are the first to be fired and the last to be hired.

Our contention is that capitalism breeds unemployment. Just as my colleague demonstrated last week that war is inevitable, given the relationship of rival, competitive nations, we maintain that racial discrimination can only be eliminated when we get rid of capitalism with its prejudice-breeding competition for jobs.

Let us spend a moment on the subject of racial prejudice. We might start by asking ourselves: What is “race "? Because of the factor of time we will content ourselves with making a few general observations on the question and immediately refer anyone who wants to explore thus subject further to our literature list in The Western Socialist. It might be of interest to those of our listeners who have never heard of the World Socialist Party that we are part of an international group of organizations that have in common a Declaration of Socialist Principles. There is besides our own party, the Socialist Parties of Canada. Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the World Socialist Party of Ireland. One of the Principles which unite us is particular apropos at this time: . .  "The emancipation of the working-class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.”

So once again, what is “race”? Biologically, there is no such thing as race. If ever there was such a concept, modern investigation discloses that the mixing and mingling of the human animal homo sapiens, through the centuries and over the continents has completely sullied the purity of any grouping. The colour of a man's skin, the shape of his head, the thickness of his lips, the kinkiness of his hair, his height, his weight only proves how varied is Man. In Hawaii the mixing process of different groupings is in its infancy and already it is nigh impossible to identify any individual. In Brazil the Indians and the Europeans and the Negroes are so fused that there is no Indian problem. Nor is there a European problem or a Negro problem. In the United States where chattel slavery existed until 1865, the Negroes were imprisoned in one sector of the country. Upon their legal release at the end of the Civil War and all the way up until the events in Birmingham, they have still remained imprisoned by economic shackles. This may be a good time to define slavery.

It was Shakespeare who wrote: “He who owns the means by which I live, owns my very life.” The southern Negro escaped from chattel slavery into wage slavery. Under the former he worked for a master from sun-up until sun-down and in return he received his grub, hand-me-down rags and a roof over his head. Under the wages system, the worker toils by the clock for a boss in return for which he gets an amount of money, which barely enables him to buy food, clothing and shelter to maintain himself and his family, so that he can go back to repeat the -process. Most workers will resent the description of their lot as slavery. And we answer that none are so blind as those who will not see. This is not the time for too much elaboration but suffice it to say that the government statistics support this description. Average wages of the industrial workers faithfully match the cost of living index.

Following the Civil War some Negroes came North looking for freedom and opportunity. However, with few exceptions, most were herded into ghettos— Harlems and South Ends—and in the competition for the available jobs, they were always the scapegoats. They were forced to accept menial work as servants, as elevator operators, dishwashers and worse.

Today the situation is aggravated by events taking place elsewhere. The world is in turmoil. The drive to exploit every possibility on the part if imperialist nations finally has caused Africa to explode. What formerly was anti-colonialism now is a demand for independence. The Negroes now constituting approximately 10 per cent, of the population in the United States are showing signs of being fed up with being pushed around. They are still segregated, not only down South where the vestiges of the past persist, but in the North as well. And they resent it. The Negroes are segregated but they are not ex-communicated. They listen to TV and read newspapers. Every channel of communication flashes the injustice of their lot. Some turn to extremes such as the Black Muslim movement. Others are influenced by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and many other groups. It is the Socialist analysis that to get rid of so-called race prejudice there is only one method, to get rid of its cause, capitalism. There is no other way.

Previously we related the fact of unemployment and tied it in with competition for jobs breeding prejudice. How do the current political leaders deal with this7 Their approach is tragically ludicrous. How do they propose to reduce unemployment? By reducing taxes! With the reasoning that this will give the economy a shot in the arm, stimulate business and, lo and behold!, unemployment will be lessened This is like throwing the tide back by using a bucket.

The alternative that we propose is Socialism. Under Socialism the causes of race-prejudice will no longer exist. The entire population will co-operate in producing all the things required by society. Each person will contribute, irrespective of differences, what he is able to society—and will take from society what he needs. Under Socialism competition between human beings will cease to exist. Privilege will be abolished. People will live in harmony.

This is one of the few opportunities we have to underscore an important element in the Socialist case. Usually we get involved in answering away so many misconceptions about Socialism that we fail to bring home the fact that we stand for world co-operation—common ownership and democratic control. And in the language of every Socialist the expression Comrade is used, not in the derisive sense it has come to mean due to the distortion of our ideas when seen through the caricature in the U.S.S.R., but is a manner of addressing our brothers, joined in the greatest job in the world today, the job of educating and organizing for a Socialist world.

Branch News (1963)

Party News from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

To give full details of the amazing work being done by “Our Man in Cornwall” would fill a whole issue of the Socialist Standard. Here we can report only briefly the activities of our comrade in St. Austell, St. Blazey, Callington, Looe, Bodmin, Liskeard, Wadebridge, Rylla Mill (Village Fair), Par, Saltash and Torpoint. He is circulating our literature throughout the West Country. Think of all the work involved in getting from place to place, talking to workers, attending political meetings, day in and day out, sending lengthy reports to Head Office. Our comrade can have little time for rest—his leisure is propagating Socialism. Due to an illness, this member was prescribed a diet, but this does not explain his recent loss of weight from 13½ stones to 11½ stones. He comments that he feels fine and hopes that before long, new branches will be formed in the West Country. When this happens, the work he has done will have speeded the day.

After 20 years existence as Ealing Branch and 10 years in its meeting place near Eating Broadway, the Branch has changed both its meeting place and its name. Over the years, particularly after the promotion of Wembley Branch, many members have gravitated away from Ealing and it has become inescapable that a move nearer the centre of London would be generally more convenient. And so the die has been cast! The Branch is now the West London Branch and meets at Westcott Lodge, Lower Mall, Hammersmith, a few minutes’ walk from Hammersmith Broadway. All members have been informed of the new meeting place and it is hoped that many of those who found the journey to Ealing too inconvenient will be able to attend the new premises. more easily. A cordial invitation is also extended to those members formerly belonging to Fulham Branch, and to all other members and sympathisers resident in the area.

The Branch is also optimistic that the new meeting place will be a convenient point of contact for sympathisers from the outdoor meetings at Earls Court. These have been very successful so far, the weather has been generally kind, with good audiences and literature sales. It is hoped to follow up this activity with a particularly wide range of lectures, discussions, and film shows during the winter season.

Wood Green and Hornsey Branch have been active in Tottenham. Branch members attended a film-show organised by Tottenham C.N.D. and effectively criticised C.N.D. policy before an audience of 50 people. This criticism was repeated in a letter printed in the local press. The Branch was also invited to send a speaker to the Tottenham Young Socialists and a comrade addressed an audience of over 50 who showed great interest. A further address is being arranged on the subject of C.N.D. Please note change of branch address in the Branch Directory.

Camberwell Branch, with the Propaganda Committee has organised at Battersea Town Hall on Wednesday, August 14th at 7.30. Title and full details advertised in this issue. All available comrades should make every endeavour to support this meeting by bringing along friends, selling literature and as much cash for the collection as they can afford.

The title of the meeting is Labourism or Socialism. Comrades C. May and D. McCarthy are the speakers. Battersea Town Hall is near Clapham Junction.

World Socialist Party of Ireland. Good work is being done in Belfast. The members are holding a Seven Days for Socialism during, the third week in September. The idea is to devote an entire week to Socialist propaganda work. The Branch members will canvass the Socialist Standard and Western Socialist with a suitable leaflet. At least two outdoor and one indoor meetings will be held. The Branch is contesting Duncain and Shankhill Wards in the Municipal elections next May and the week of propaganda will be held in these areas and will be the start of the election campaign. An election fund will be opened and candidates will be selected in September.

Armagh Branch continues with its canvassing with good results. Press advertisements inserted in Dublin, Belfast, Portadown and Armagh have brought in good results and it is expected that the results shown from Dublin will help Comrades to become even more active.
Phyllis Howard

A clarification (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been pointed out to us that a phrase in our reply to a C.N.D. correspondent in the June S.S. could be capable of misinterpretation.

In the penultimate paragraph of our reply we said: “Thus the S.P.G.B. will never come to power, never form a government.”

Whilst this does not mean that the Socialist delegates elected to Parliament will form a government in the accepted sense, it does mean that they will use the power obtained to take the necessary steps to establish Socialism.
Editorial Committee

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Editorial: No joke? (1983)

Editorial from the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

From her apparently invulnerable Fortress Westminster, Margaret Thatcher does not need to pay heed to most of the criticisms levelled at her, least of all to the jibe that she is incapable of consciously making a joke. This is not to say that she never says anything amusing; reporters with especially acute hearing often record some comment which, although innocent of any such intention, has the kind of sexual or lavatorial interpretation which can provoke a few guffaws.

A humourless, out of touch Thatcher fits in neatly with her opponents’ view of her as a fanatic who will heartlessly destroy entire industries, towns and families to suit her political dogma. The prime minister herself does not go out of her way to discourage this notion; the medicine she is administering, she says, may be harsh and unpalatable but it is the only known cure and when we have taken it we shall be much healthier and more prosperous. There is, in the famous phrase, no alternative, no cause for doubt — and no reason to make jokes either.

There have been other prime ministers, in similar circumstances, cast in the same humourless mould. History records no risible comments by Clement Attlee, whose stock in trade was a dry, waspish dismissal of opponents and who was as unbending as Thatcher in the conviction that the assaults his government were making on workers’ living standards were the only possible way of running the country.

And of course Attlee was right. His government came into power just as the second world war was coming to its dreadful close amid the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capitalism worldwide was extensively damaged, in many areas devastated. In the wreckage the pre-war competitive menace of Germany and Japan had, for a while, been laid low and there was now a new rival for British capitalism in its former ally Russia. American capitalism dominated the western world both economically and militarily. If British industry was to arrest the decline it had suffered since the turn of the century (an enduring, if fantastic, ambition for a long succession of British politicians) there had to be a massive effort of industry and sacrifice from the working class. Who better to organise this, and to discipline it. than a Labour government with its close ties with the trade unions and its established reputation as the most deceptive leader in the endless pilgrimage to the Promised Land? The promises came in a flood from Labour ministers. One more effort, the workers were told — a few more years of austerity and restraint — and all would be well. No wonder Attlee cracked no jokes for it was not a laughing matter.

The significance of the fact that, some thirty years on, Thatcher faces a similar situation seems to have escaped the working class, who obediently voted her back into power. Just like the post-war Labour government, her ministers tell us that we are in a massively threatening crisis. If we behave irresponsibly, by demanding pay rises above what the government say we should have, or by failing to work hard enough, or by reacting against the deeper poverty we face through being unemployed, then there will follow a collapse of civilised society. But if we do as the government advise — if we are exceedingly generous towards the exploiting capitalist class — then everything will eventually come right. There should be no surprise that Thatcher does not easily make jokes, because this too is no laughing matter.

It is time for the workers also to take this seriously. Ever since they won the right to vote, they have consistently given power to the class which exists in privilege by virtue of its exploitation of the working class. The most frightful obscenities have been committed to preserve this privilege — the horrors of two world wars, the persistent death toll of tens of millions every year in famine, the unrelenting grind of poverty and repression which workers everywhere endure in order to survive. Yet whenever those workers have the chance to act to end this — as they had in Britain in June — they clearly opt for it to carry on.

They come to this self-damaging decision through the process of a debate which never approaches any fundamental analysis of modern society and of the causes of its ailments. Instead, workers argue over the supposed merits of the programmes offered by the Labour, Conservative and Alliance parties although such differences as there are in these programmes are superficial and unimportant. Whichever the workers choose makes no difference to society worth taking into account. Because they all agree that capitalism shall continue — and because the working class agree on this as well — the society of class privilege, war, exploitation, famine and disease remains. The choice between Labour, Tory and Alliance is an unreal one; the debate over their programmes is a phoney.

There is in fact an alternative. People who, every day of their lives, do the vital and complex work involved in running modern society are capable of better than this. The bankruptcy of capitalism and the impotence of its apologists significantly to improve it are all too apparent. In their everyday lives workers could not function if they did not act on an assessment and acceptance of available evidence and their experience. It should be a simple matter for them to apply this same reasoning to the wider field of society at large and its organisation.

That must lead them in only one direction — to a decision that, as capitalism is characteristically unable to do other than degrade, repress and murder its people, it must be abolished through a world wide democratic revolution which will replace it with a fundamentally different social order. Socialism will be based on the communal ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. It will be a society without classes, without privilege, without social conflict. Its wealth will not be bought and sold but will be available for free access, with every human being standing equally in their right to take as much as they need. It w'ill be a democratic society, without leaders who take on themselves the decision making at whatever the cost to the majority.

It needs only a conscious political act by the world working class for socialism to become a reality. This is what socialists work for and our object — the capture of political power by the working class to establish a socialist society — must be taken seriously by anyone who is interested in the welfare of the human race.

Political Notes: It’s an honour (1983)

The Political Notes Column from the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s an honour

There has never been any reason to believe that Harold Wilson had designs to abolish himself so there must be some other explanation for the fact that, although when he was prime minister he announced that no more hereditary peers would be created, now that he is out of parliament he is reported to have accepted — to have wanted — such an honour for himself.

Of course this may be yet another — if especially obscure — example of Labour Party gradualism, of the theory that capitalism will eventually find itself ended through a succession of near-imperceptible steps. It is something over fifty years since the Labour Party announced that one such step would be the abolition of the House of Lords and Wilson's stated preference for the creation of life, as opposed to hereditary, lords was greeted as a gradualist move in the process of abolition sometime.

This enthusiasm — Labour supporters starved of real progress, have had to learn to exist on such contemptible crumbs — must have been dented when the police began to take a deep interest in several of the eminences so recently ennobled by Wilson.

Capitalism can do very nicely — as it does in places like America, France and Russia — without the tradition of dressing people up in funny clothes, pinning bits of ribbon and metal on them and giving them funny titles. Which is not to say that the system does not have some picturesque rewards for those who have given it special service.

Harold Wilson was one of these. He came to power through a skilfully worded pledge that working class problems could easily be conjured away through something called the technological revolution; that the micro chip would alter the basic nature of capitalism. Predictably, he and his government were soon bogged down in crisis. Their fine promises were forgotten as they grappled to deplete workers’ living standards. When they lost power they were thoroughly exposed and discredited and since then no more is heard of the harvest to be reaped from the white hot technological revolution. By any standards, a notable achievement by Wilson. He fully deserves his honour; capitalism has looked on him and found him to be good.

Head count

The debate over the restoration of the death penalty was loaded with moral considerations and much talk about the ethics of the judicial taking of life and the right of society to respond to a murder by itself murdering the killer. Almost everyone who took part agreed that this was a very important issue because with human lives at stake a careful and informed discussion was necessary. When it was over and the votes had been counted everyone could go home congratulating themselves for playing their part in such a highly charged occasion with full regard to their grave responsibility.

But what sort of problem were they talking about? If the death penally is restored so that it applies as it did before the Homicide Act of 1957 — before the introduction of degrees of murder — there will be about one execution a week in Britain. If a Bill goes through in this form, something like 60 people will die who would otherwise survive to serve a life sentence.

Now there is no denying that the death penalty is a disfiguring barbarity. There is no denying that the vast majority of murders can be said to be some sort of response to the inhumanities which capitalism imposes on its people, and which it expects them to survive with patience and conformity. But in comparison to the tens of millions who die each year through the simple fact that capitalism can’t meet the needs of the human race, the numbers who might be despatched by the hangman in Britain are insignificant. If MPs. and others who were convinced that they were arguing about moral issues, about the sanctity of human life, were sincere why are they so consistently able to ignore this massively greater death toll?

The answer is simple. The apologists for capitalism can discuss an issue like the death penalty, with its strictly limited scope, without ever needing to consider the wider and deeper responsibility of this social system for the problem. The whole thing can be talked out in terms of ethics, religion, insignificant reforms; when it is over capitalism is left undisturbed.

This is a much more comfortable way of approaching an issue, than one which might call into question the basics of society, their effect on people and the fact that this social system must degrade the people who keep it in existence. As so often happens, the debate on the death penalty was really about granting capitalism yet another reprieve.

Up school

Margaret Thatcher has not made her name as a political tactician of historic subtlety so perhaps she was unaware that, by sacking Francis Pym, she was depriving some of her opponents of one of their most cherished illusions. Pym's departure from the government meant that, with the exception of the increasingly ridiculous Lord Hailsham, there is now not one Old Etonian in the Cabinet — to say the least, an unusual situation for a Tory government and one to cause consternation in London's clubland.

It has always been a favourite left-wing pastime to tot up the numbers of Tory ministers who spent their schooldays at Eton and Harrow and to produce the result as proof that a Conservative government is in the hands of a small, privileged, self-perpetuating clique. At times, there seemed to be something to be said for this theory. Harold Macmillan, for example, seemed to go out of his way to give some top jobs, not just to Old Etonians but to those who were related to him. The lesson we were invited by the left wing to draw from this was that a government full of such high born people could not possibly understand, and deal with, the problems of the “ordinary” people and that we should therefore vote for a party with a less exclusive background.

Unhappily for this theory, we had the experience of Labour governments, many of whose ministers had not only not been to public school but had sometimes had very little formal schooling at all. Some of them were fond of reminding us of this, by applying an eccentric pronunciation which removed aitches from where they should be and stuck them back on where they should not be.

Jimmy Thomas was one such eminence; another was Ernie Bevin. Their place in political history is assured; they were zealous workers for the interests of the British capitalist class at no matter what cost to the class of their origin, the class which can't send its children to Eton or Roedean and which suffers the effects of the social system which Thomas and Bevin helped to administer.

Thomas, after a spell drunkenly contemplating the deepening misery of British workers in the slump of the late twenties, saved his miserable skin by joining the National government with the Tories and the Liberals. His aristocratic friends were much amused by his comical terminology. Bevin, among his many other achievements, saw British workers committed to the slaughter of the Korean war and the start of the British nuclear weapon programme.

The familial and social beginnings of the people who run capitalism is of absolutely no account. It is working class acquiescence in the system which is important. Without that the leaders would be impotent and redundant and we would have a society free of conflict and privilege.

Blogger's Note:
On the subject of capital punishment, this issue of the Socialist Standard also had a longer article on the subject: British rope trick

Two political myths (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

A general election is a time of heightened political interest but also one in which people's basic political assumptions come to the fore. From following the election campaign, reading the election literature and from talking to people, it is clear that two assumptions dominate current political thinking, not just among the parties but among the public generally.

The first is that the people who inhabit the British Isles form a community with a basic common interest and that the election was about choosing the men and women to administer its affairs. That, in other words, governments represent the interests of all the people and that this is their role.

The second assumption is that the government is responsible for what happens in the country. That, for instance, if unemployment grows, if factories close, or if there is bad housing, then this is the fault of the government. It is believed that something could be done about such things if the government so chose, or if it pursued a different policy. This of course is the stuff of conventional politics. In the election the Labour Party suggested that mass unemployment was the fault of Mrs Thatcher, that she had deliberately created it because she is a heartless woman, but that if the Labour Party was in office things would be different as they would use the powers of government to get the economy expanding again. When Labour was in power, on the other hand, the Tories blamed unemployment which has been continually rising for over 20 years irrespective of the party in office on the bungling policies pursued by the government. And so on and so on.

It is questionable to what extent ordinary people really are taken in by these sham battles between professional politicians but it is certainly true that it is a widely held view that the government is to a large extent responsible for the way in which the economy operates.

Socialists share neither of these assumptions. We deny that governments do, or can, govern in the interests of the whole people. And we deny that governments can control the economy at all, let alone make it work in the interests of everyone. The people of Britain do not form a community with a common interest. We live in a class-divided society in which there is no common interest, but only conflicting class interests. Present-day society is divided into two main, but quite unequal, classes; those who own and control the means of wealth production (the farms, the mines, the factories, the ships, the warehouses, the offices) and the rest of us who depend for our living on working for a wage or salary. Those who own and control the means of production are only a tiny minority of the population. well under 5 per cent. Apart from about 5 per cent of self-employed — small shopkeepers, professional people and the like — the rest, over 90 per cent, are wage and salary earners.

Some people would not deny that society is divided into owners and non-owners, employers and wage and salary earners, but they would reject the view that there is a necessary conflict of interest between these two classes. For them, Capital and Labour have a common interest in cooperating to produce the wealth society needs to survive. But it can easily be shown that, to use their terms. Capital and Labour do not and cannot have a common interest.

What is Capital? Basically, a sum of money invested in production with a view to profit. The economic textbooks tell us that profit is the return or “remuneration” on capital. We could quarrel with this terminology but will let this pass as there is a basic agreement that what Capital seeks out of production is Profit. What Labour seeks, on the other hand, is a wage or a salary which is the price of the mental and physical energies that have been sold to the employer.

Since what is produced is divided into Profits and Wages and Salaries, there is clearly a built-in cause of conflict here: the share of Profits can only be increased at the expense of Wages and Salaries, and vice versa. Capital and Labour are in fact in continual conflict over the division of the wealth that has been produced. This is everyday experience and explains why there are trade unions and strikes.

But there is another factor which, for us. makes this conflict irreconcilable. As wealth can only be produced by work, by humans applying their menial and physical energies to nature-given materials, any non-work income such as profits can only come out of the product of somebody’s labour. Profits in fact arise out of the unpaid labour of the wage and salary earning class. Under capitalism, in other words, the wage and salary earning majority are exploited economically; they are employed solely in order to extract profits from their labour.

It is clear that under these circumstances the interests of the profit-taking class and the majority wage-earning class are completely antagonistic. The one class lives by exploiting the other. This is why to talk of there being a community with a common interest is just nonsense. There is no such community and no such common interest, and there never will be until the means of production have ceased to be monopolised by a section only of society.

This is the basic conflict of interest in society: the interest of the owning minority to preserve the existing set-up from which they benefit versus the interest of the wage and salary earning majority to take over and run the means of wealth-production for the common good. This is why in the end the real issue in the class struggle is: Capitalism or Socialism? Minority ownership or common ownership?

But if there is no common interest in present-day society for the government to represent, in whose interests do they operate? The answer is again supplied by everyday experience. The government, no matter what political party it is formed by, represents the interests of the capitalist employing class. Present-day society is capitalist. A majority of people accept and even want this, even though it involves their economic exploitation. The role of government under capitalism is, first of all, to preserve and to protect society’s basis — the monopoly by a minority over the means of production. In Britain this is done perfectly legally by upholding and enforcing existing private property rights.

The other role of the government in present-day society is to manage the common affairs, not of the imaginary community of the whole population, but of the capitalist class as a whole, of the tiny minority who own and control the means of production.

This has been borne out by the experience of governments of all political colours, Labour as well as Conservative. That the Thatcher Conservative government governs in the interest of the capitalist minority needs no demonstration. It openly defends the profit system. It openly attacks the wage and salary earning class and their rather feeble defensive organisations that are the trade unions. Its declared aim is to reduce the consumption of wage and salary earners as a way of trying to restore profitability.

This is quite normal. It has nothing to do with Thatcher, Tebbit and the others being heartless. It is the government fulfilling its role under capitalism. Labour governments have acted in exactly the same way. For the benefit of those with short memories, we would restate that the Wilson Labour governments between 1964 and 1970 and 1974 and 1976, and the Callaghan Labour government between 1976 and 1979 also attacked wage and salary earners through wage freezes, smashing strikes, and by cutting back on the so-called social services. Their declared aim, too, was to increase profits by reducing consumption.

So much. then, for the first myth that governments represent the interests of the whole population and act in the common interest. They don’t, and they can't. As long as capitalism lasts they will act in the interests of those who benefit from the profit-making system which is capitalism; in other words, those who live off profits arising from their ownership and control of the means of wealth production.

In any event — and this brings us to the second current political myth — governments do not control the economy. They are not responsible for the way it operates and can’t do anything about it even if they wanted to, or rather even though they do want to. What governments control is not the economy, but political power, the machinery of government. They control the forces of repression which are the army and police. This of course gives them considerable power in certain fields, but it doesn't give them the power to control the economy. The capitalist economy is something that functions in accordance with its own economic laws, which governments are powerless to change and which they must in the end accept and even apply.

The first feature of the economy is that it is a system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit. Making profits is the be-all and end-all of production. The basic rule is “no profit, no production" and this is a rule that governments must respect. Governments, all governments, must allow and encourage profits to be made and must refrain from actions that undermine or threaten them, at the risk of provoking stagnation in the economic sector concerned. This is a considerable restriction on what they can do to improve the lot of the majority class of wage and salary earners.

The second feature of the capitalist economy is that it is a world economy. There is no such thing as the “British economy”, the “German economy”, the “American economy", despite what the papers say. What exists is a single, integrated economy which operates throughout the world, including (in the form of State capitalism) in countries like Russia and China. This means that even if a government were to control all industry within its frontiers (as is nearly the case in some of the state capitalist countries) it would still not control the functioning of the economy, and so would still have to conform to the dictates of the world market. In fact one definition of capitalism might be “the world market economy”. For the world economy is a market economy in the classic sense of the term: unplanned, anarchical, competitive.

Being anarchical the world capitalist economy moves in fits and starts, periods of growth being followed by periods of stagnation, which prepare the ground for the next period of growth, which inevitably ends in another period of stagnation, and so on. This cycle of booms and slumps repeats itself over and over again and there is nothing governments can do about it.

But at whatever stage of its cycle, the world economy is a competitive system in which States and enterprises are competing against each other to sell their goods profitably. Since they have to accept the prices fixed by the world market, the only way the competing capitalist States and enterprises can increase their profits is by reducing their costs of production. This can be done in a number of ways but the only effective one in the end is to introduce new, more up-to-date and efficient machinery and techniques of production.

This is yet another reason why governments must give priority to profits by keeping costs down, rather than to improving wages and social benefits, which increases costs. All governments. Labour as well as Conservative, do this, employing the same familiar language of “competitiveness", “productivity”, "technological revolution”, “sacrifice today for a better tomorrow", and so on. This means that no government can for long pursue a policy of increasing real wages or social benefits. In periods of stagnation and slump, when competitive pressures are greatest, governments are even obliged to follow' the market’s downward pressure on wages and other costs and cut back their spending on social benefits. This is not a matter of choice. It is something governments are obliged to do, whether they want to or not, whether they are apparently pro-wage-earner (like Labour) or openly anti-wage-earner (like the Tories).

In other words, far from governments controlling capitalism, it is the other way round: governments have to frame their policies to fit in with the logic of capitalism. It is the capitalist economy which determines the policies governments must pursue.

Socialists are prepared to accept the full implications of this position: that if governments don’t control the economy then they can’t be blamed for rising unemployment, closing factories, falling wages and the like. Harold Wilson was right to declare that he had been "driven off course”. Thatcher and Tebbit are right when they blame the current high level of unemployment on the world recession — though it is not quite so clear that they realise the full implications of their position here. For in blaming unemployment on the world recession they are in effect blaming it on capitalism!

We also draw the further conclusion that, as it is the working of the capitalist economy that is responsible for the level of unemployment, no change of government or government policy is going to make any appreciable difference. Unemployment will begin to come down, if ever it does, only when world capitalism begins to move out of the stagnation phase of its cycle. As there is nothing governments can do to hasten this, their only possible course is to quite literally sit back and wait for the recovery of the world capitalist economy to materialise. The current Conservative government seems to have understood this and so makes no attempt to reduce unemployment.

That this is all any government can do is perhaps hard to swallow by those who want to do something about unemployment but it is the stark truth. Tory governments have no qualms about accepting it because they openly accept the logic of capitalism and willingly apply it. But this creates problems for parties like Labour which do contain some sincere but confused elements. But sincerity does not come into it. Any government of capitalism — and all governments are governments of capitalism — has to run the system in the only way possible: as a profit-making system in the interest of those who live off profits, against the interest of the wage and salary earning majority.

No government, however sincere or resolute or determined, can make capitalism work in the interest of the majority. Capitalism just cannot be reformed to work in such a way. The conclusion we draw from this is that capitalism should be abolished and be replaced by a new and different system, one based on common ownership and production for use on a world scale. For some reason the Labour Party refuses to believe the evidence of numerous Labour and similar governments throughout the world and thinks up all sorts of excuses for their failure — betrayal, not determined enough, not left-wing enough — rather than face the fact that they failed because they just couldn’t succeed.
Adam Buick