Saturday, September 30, 2023

Sting in the Tail: A saint he ain’t (1995)

The Sting in the Tail column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

A saint he ain’t

Pope John XXIII, Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and Cardinal Newman are among more than 70 names being considered by the Church of England as candidates for its version of sainthood (Guardian, 12 July).

Bizarre choices, perhaps, but even more so is William Morris, 19th century artist and revolutionary socialist, who is also included.

Did Morris believe in God? After speaking about socialism at one meeting, Morris was told by a clergyman:
"That’s an impossible dream of yours, Mr Morris; such a Society would need God Almighty Himself to manage it. Morris got up . . . and shaking his fist to emphasise his words, he said, ‘well, damn it, man, you catch your God Almighty — we’ll have him!' "
Had he even any time for the C of E? Indeed “he drove home the fact that organised religion was one of the strongest pillars of capitalist orthodoxy’” (Both quotes from E.P. Thompson’s William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary).

Getting death-bed converts is one thing, but grave-robbing is something else.

More snouts for the trough

The horses galloped and the women in silly hats paraded alongside a select crowd of businessmen, politicians, diplomats, etc. A scene from Royal Ascot? No, this was Warsaw racecourse and the event was the Summer Gala held by the Business Centre Club (BCC), Poland’s equivalent of the CBI.

BCC’s chairman told the guests that the Club’s members, representing 600 companies with combined capital of $19.3 billion, “form the nucleus of Poland’s incipient middle-class”, and a Cardinal completely misjudged his audience by appealing “for ethics and fair play in business”.

All this is reported in the English-language newspaper Warsaw Voice (16 July) which also told us that, following the speeches, the guests “rushed” to get at the free food and drink provided, and added: “However, food and drink did not stand in the way’ of talk about money and new deals. ”

Ex-communists in the government arc apparently holding-up the development of full-blooded private enterprise capitalism in Poland, but not so as you’d notice.

Class confusion

Some workers imagine they are “professionals”, “middle class” or even “upper middle class”. They say “I get a salary not a wage, I wear a collar and tie and not hobnailed boots and overalls.”

Even capitalists are deluded about class. Paul McCartney, the musician and reputedly worth £420 million is clueless:
“People say’, ‘Oh no, you’re too rich to be working class ’and I say ‘No, no, it's a state of mind working class, it’s not a bank balance ’" (Independent on Sunday, 16 July).
It’s a daft situation when a £250-a-week clerk claims he is not working class and a multi-millionaire claims he is.

If you own little or nothing and have to seek work for a wage or a salary you are a member of the working class. If you own enough of the means of production and can live on rent, interest and profit you are a member of the capitalist class. Got it, Paul?

It ain’t you

While some workers desperately check their numbers on the National Lottery' and cut their expectations from millions to thousands and eventually to “Well, at least let’s hope the last number means I’ve won a tenner”; others connected with the scam are less anxious.

The Chief Executive of Camelot, Tim Holley, has a salary of £200,000 per year, benefits worth £11,367, a bonus of £ 120,000 and a pension contribution worth £112,000. He can expect another annual bonus of 50 percent of his salary if Camelot exceed target returns.

So while that big advertising ghostly finger points to Tim every week it is giving you the two-fingered salute.

A rich survey

Yet another survey of incomes and social attitudes has been published.

According to the Western Daily Press (12 July) this one, “Targeting the Rich and the Poor”, by Mintel Marketing Research, has come up with such startling revelations as, the rich are happier and more optimistic than the poor, and the rich will get richer while the poor will get poorer. Presumably, someone actually pays for this stuff

MMR defines the poor as households with an average weekly income of £112 while the rich have an average weekly income of £800. There’s no doubt that the former are poor but can most of the latter really be rich? Since £800 is an average then many in this category' must have incomes well below this.

Anyway, even £800 a week is peanuts compared to what the genuinely rich get, and in fact most of MMR’s “rich” are merely relatively well-paid workers. This “Targeting” has missed its mark by a mile.

It can be done

Who says that a moneyless society based on production for use and democratic control by the whole community is impossible?

The Johannesburg Star (24 June) provides evidence that the Sahrawi desert nomads of Western Sahara live in just such a society,  “In this strange society there is no money. Everyone works for the benefit of all", and there is democratic decision-making at every level.

No doubt the Sahrawi will eventually be drawn into the world-capitalist economy and their way of life will be eroded and finally destroyed, but they have shown that people can live in the way that we socialists advocate and work for.

The Yugoslav Wars: Myths & Realities (1995)

From the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Once again the socialist assertion that nationalism can never serve the interests of the working class is being attested to daily amidst the horrors of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Despite claim and counter-claim of atrocities committed by one side or the other the simple fact is that worker is butchering worker — for the privilege of rearranging capitalist state borders!
Early August brought what could be a turning point in the Yugoslav wars with a major offensive by the Croatian army which recaptured almost the whole of the Krajina region including Knin, the capital of the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina, and an offensive by the Bosnian Army’s 5th Corps who successfully broke out of the besieged Bihac enclave and linked up with the Croatian Army in Krajina. This has thrown into disarray not just the whole of the Serbian nationalist political apparatus but also the foreign policies of the great powers.

Not inevitable
Contrary to the ramblings of the “ancient hatreds” school of thought, war in Yugoslavia was not inevitable. Major constitutional changes were very much on the agenda and even though there was a tendency towards fragmentation, and with it a potential for violence. But full-scale war and genocidal carnage were not preordained.

Yugoslavia was a federation of six republics and two autonomous provinces each having its own regional government within the federal structure. The two richer republics of Slovenia and Croatia wanted free-market-type reforms akin to those being implemented in live former state-capitalist bloc, together with a looser confederal political structure and moves towards EC membership. For a time it looked as if this was the direction in which Yugoslavia would move, with Prime Minister Ante Markovic presenting a reform package that allowed for foreign ownership of Yugoslav industry and tied the Dinar to the Deutschmark. Such proposals met with the approval of the EC, who also made it clear that they were only interested in Yugoslavia as a single market and not as a number of smaller states. Similarly George Bush stated that the US would not recognise any breakaway republics from Yugoslavia (partly because Bush did not want to encourage secessionist tendencies in the Soviet Union).

In purely economic terms total breakup of the federation was in no-one’s interests. Even for Slovenia and Croatia, the Yugoslav federation though a drain on their economies was also the biggest market for their goods. To secede would have meant not only losing that market but losing also the possibility of EC membership, while for the poorer republics secession would mean losing a source of funding for economic development. In terms of international politics the West (and Moscow) feared that the break-up of Yugoslavia would not only destabilise the Balkans but provide a model and source of legitimacy for the break-up of the Soviet Union into a number of smaller and less stable states, some with a nuclear capability. The continued existence of the Yugoslav Federation appeared to be agreed upon by all concerned.

Ancient hatreds?
According to John Major the Yugoslav wars are primarily the results of "the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the discipline that that exerted over the ancient hatreds in the old Yugoslavia. Once that discipline had disappeared, those ancient hatreds reappeared and we began to see their consequences when the fighting occurred” (Hansard, 23 June, col. 324). This view is repeated by many western politicians, partly to excuse their failure to have guided Yugoslavia peacefully into post-Cold War Europe (a not impossible task given the consensus noted above), and partly because it mirrors the racist propaganda of the nationalist regimes in Serbia and Croatia, the two regional imperia to emerge from the disintegration of Titoist Yugoslavia and behind whom the great powers are lining up against one another. It is, however, a view which bears no resemblance to historical reality.

The idea of ancient hatreds and longstanding ethnic feuds is wholly mythical. For centuries Serbs and Croats were barely aware of each other’s existence, being separated by the border dividing the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires—the military frontier or Volna Krajina to use its Slavonic name. The Serbs who inhabited this region were descended from semi-nomadic Vlachs who were encouraged to settle along the frontier by the Austro-Hungarian authorities to function as a buffer against incursions by raiders from Bosnia. In return they were awarded certain privileges such as semi-autonomy and freedom of worship (the Vlachs were Orthodox Christians unlike the Catholic Hapsburgs). The idea that these Genzers, as they came to be known, were Serbs running from religious persecution by Muslims is a myth fabricated by Serbian nationalist intellectuals.

It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century that Bosnia’s Orthodox Christians and Catholics began to regard themselves as Serbs and Croats, and again this was due to propaganda by nationalist intellectuals. The often bloody conflicts for which the Balkans are known, and which at times took on an ethno-religious dimension, were in essence economic and political conflicts—manifestations of the class struggle between the predominantly (but not exclusively) Christian peasantry and their predominantly (but not exclusively) Muslim overlords.

Only in World War II did Serbs and Croats finally confront each other directly, but even this is shrouded in mythology. The Ustase regime of Ante Pavelic which Serbian Nationalists claim illustrates the inherent fascism of all Croats was deeply unpopular and would not have lasted a day without the blessing of the Vatican and the support of the Nazis. Its victims were not just Serbs but Croats too. Many Croats, including the young Franjo Tudjman, fought with the Partisans led by Tito, another Croat. Serbs also fought Serbs in a three-way slaughter involving the pan-Yugoslav Partisans, the Nazi puppet regime in Belgrade and the Monarchist forces of Draza Mikailovic. Bosnian Muslims fought on both Partisan and Axis sides, and proportionally suffered more than either Serbs or Croats. The Yugoslav war of 1941-45, then, was not an ethnic conflict but ideological and political.

Similarly the Yugoslav wars of today have their origins in political struggles. Not in the political struggles of secessionist republics against the Federation as a whole, but in the political struggles occurring inside the Federation’s most powerful republic, Serbia.

The bones of Prince Lazar
Slobodan Milosevic was at one time hailed in the West as a Balkan Gorbachev, tire first Yugoslav to realise Tito was dead, as the phrase went. Inside Yugoslavia he was known as something else, as the Saviour and Protector of the Serbs who, the nationalists claimed, were oppressed in Tito-the-Croat’s Yugoslavia—despite the fact that Serbia dominated the political system, the army and was creaming off the profits from Slovenian industry and Croatian tourism.

In 1989 when tire rest of Europe was celebrating the fall of the state capitalist empire and extolling the virtues of civic nationalism, Milosevic was staging rallies commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje and parading the bones of Prince Lazar around towns and villages across Serbia in a campaign calculated to whip up ethnic nationalist sentiment.

Milosevic began his rise to power in 1987 when he opportunistically latched on to the issue of the Serb minority in the province of Kosovo. The situation of these Serbs, though poor, was no worse and probably better than Kosovo’s Albanian majority; but in taking on the issue Milosevic was able to establish a power base among the nationalist intellectuals of the Serbian Academy of Sciences from which to launch an assault on the ailing Titoist political system. The Kosovo issue, which eventually led to the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina being swallowed up by Serbia, showed that the post-Cold War Yugoslavia was to be a Serbian-dominated centralised unitary state; thus further provoking confederalist tendencies in tire other republics.

The Chetniks
The Yugoslav wars began in June 1991 when the Yugoslav Army entered the breakaway republic of Slovenia under the pretext of securing Yugoslavia’s borders. The Slovenian war lasted ten days, left less than seventy dead and ended with the army’s withdrawal. This allowing of Slovenia—which had no sizeable Serb population—to secede indicated that the Serbian Nationalists in the Yugoslav Army had won their power struggle with the “Yugoslavists” who wanted to retain Yugoslavia within its previously existing frontiers, and that Greater Serbia would be exactly that: a single state that incorporated all areas of the former Yugoslavia populated by Serbs.

Croatia and Bosnia did have sizeable Serb populations. As securing of borders could no longer be used as a front for Yugoslav Army intervention, the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia were induced to turn on their neighbours through a combination of propaganda and terror. When the army was deployed it was usually under the pretext of “peace-keeping” or protecting the Serb minority from attacks they themselves had provoked by actions instigated by Belgrade.

For the most part Serbian intervention came in the form of the Chetniks, volunteer units recruited from the underworld and far-right groups often commanded by gangsters and neo-fascist politicians. The Arkanovci, for example, were responsible for many of the atrocities committed at Vukovar and around Banja Luka in Bosnia. This unit take their name from Arkan, nom de guerre of Željko Ražnatović, a Belgrade mafia boss, wanted by Interpol for murder who became an MP in Milosevic’s Serbia.

Arkan was last sighted around Srebrenica in the company of General Mladić prior to the town’s fall. Another unit, the Dusan Silni, forced elderly Croats to walk through a minefield in Slavonia, while the Seseljovci were responsible for the first documented incidence of mass rape in the Bosnian war after rampaging through Zvomik, a defenceless town on the banks of the Drina. This latter group are the paramilitary' wing of the Serbian Radical Party headed by the rabid nationalist Vojislav Seselj.

Workers are always the victims
Needless to say, in this as in all wars it is the working class who suffer most. They do the fighting and the dying, they are raped and “ethnically cleansed", and it is their lives and homes that count for most of the “collateral damage”—whether or not they swallow the nationalist filth of their leaders. The people of Tuzla, for instance, an industrial town where Serbs, Croats, Muslims and others have lived and worked together for generations, didn’t even vote for Bosnian secession. Yet now they find themselves fighting and dying together for what will be, if Bosnia survives, a capitalist state that exploits them as surely as any other, for to lay down their arms will mean certain extermination at the hands of the Chetniks. The story is much the same throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Yugoslav experience shows us what can happen when structural changes in the capitalist economy result in power struggles that spiral out of control. These wars are not the results of ancient hatreds or a peculiar Balkan mentality, they are the result of capitalism and can therefore happen anywhere in the world, even here. The choice, as ever, is simple: Socialism or Barbarism.
Ian Simpson

When Labour Rules (1995)

From the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
People in Britain haven't seen a Labour government since 
1979. Which means that those under 30 have had no direct
 adult experience of how Labour rule is no different from that
 of any other government. But workers in other countries
have experienced Labour governments more recently, in 
Australia and in New Zealand. Here a Socialist from Australia sets out the pro-capitalist record of the various Labor
Party governments which have been in power there since
 1983. It will make edifying reading for those who entertain 
illusions about what a Labour government in Britain would,
 or could, do. Next month a Socialist from New Zealand
 writes about how the Labour Party there imposed austerity while in office.
December 1972 saw Gough Whitlam become the first Labor PM since 1949. His term was notable for his appointment of his “old mate”, High Court judge John Kerr, as Governor-General. Kerr had already demonstrated where his sympathies lay by clapping a prominent union official in jail for industrial action against the bosses. Kerr used this newly-acquired power and imperial boot to kick Whitlam out of office and invite Liberal Malcolm Fraser to form a government in his place.

The next seven years were marked by Fraser’s austere treatment of workers and his famous explanation that “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. These polices eventually resulted in economic turmoil as increasing unrest and industrial action by the unions, let by ACTU President Bob Hawke, threatened to create chaos for the business section. Drastic action was needed to somehow curb wages and yet pacify the workers during those times of rampant inflation. Only a Labor government with control over the unions could possibly achieve this.

ACTU President Hawke, a Rhodes Scholar and son of a religious minister, suddenly became an elected Labour MP while the media, on behalf of the business world, clamoured for a Labour victory at the next election.

Bill Hayden, Labor leader at this time, was all set to become PM. Unfortunately for him this was the era of charismatic leaders with stimulating TV media appeal. Bill Hayden had a sterile character compared to Hawke, so the latter was soon rapidly elevated and replaced Hayden as Labor leader with just five weeks to go to election day. This move clinched the election TV media battle against the positively morose Malcolm Fraser. The Hawke Labor government came to power 5 March 1983. Thus commenced the Hawke and Treasurer Keating Labor saga.

Bill Hayden was clearly bitter at having to resign in favour of Hawke. He had been a leading proponent breaking all ties with the UK and declaring Australia a republic. As a reward for his “sacrifice”, apart from his fat redundancy package, Hayden also accepted the appointment of Governor-General . . . the Queen’s Representative. To this day he still ponces around in top hat, tails and sashes, with a huge tax-free salary.

The 1980s saw Labor governments almost monopolise Australia. At one period all State governments, except Queensland and Tasmania, were Labor controlled.

The new PM Hawkc quickly organisd a meeting of capitalist employers and unions to thrash out an arrangement known as “The Accord”. His recent connections in the ACTU ensured that the unions were little more than a branch of die Labor Party. Frantic for Labor success, docile union representatives agreed to everything the Hawke government suggested. The result of “Accord” was a wage freeze and a trail of broken election promises. There was an about-face on the Timor occupation by Indonesia, uranium mining, wages and taxation. Later, promises on shorter hours, better conditions, the bomb, housing, big business tax evasion and reducing poverty were also postponed. “Indefinitely”. Had the Fraser Liberal government initiated such moves industrial actions would have brought the country' to a standstill. Union officials now spent most of their time hob-nobbing with bosses and politicians and pacifying rank-and-file complaints.

PM I Hawke explained his broken promises: "Circumstances have changed. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the government to fail to adapt to changed circumstances."

By November 1984 more workers were below the poverty line than in the previous two years, and pensions fell even further below the increasing cost of living. During one of his “publicity strolls” Bob Hawke was approached by a pensioner who attempted to discuss how Labor’s policies were hurting him. He was rebuffed in front of the TV cameras by the PM who, pushing him aside, said “You silly old bugger.”

The Federal Treasurer, Paul Keating, proudly told die House of Representatives that profits, as a proportion of national income, were at their highest since 1973.

The mid-1980s produced a balance-of-payments problem. Treasurer Keating explained that the strong economy meant money was being spent on imports which far outweighed exports. His “Labor” remedy was to copy exactly Conservative Thatcher in the UK, make money too expensive to borrow to spend on imports. Interest rates rose to record levels and mortgage-payers were punished to the point of destitution, while the Hawke government imported two airliners at $300 million each for Qantas and spent vast amounts on imported fighter aircraft to upgrade the RAAF. The West Australian newspaper reported:
"Mortgages plunge young families into poverty. In two years Apr. 84 to Apr. 86 interest rales increased from 11.5 to 15.5% Average earnings during the same period increased by 12.8% before tax, consumer prices rose 15%.

Marriage break-ups and unemployment mean 81,000 children in W.A. are in families receiving some form of Govt assistance. Financial help in Australia is less than in other Western countries. The long term looks bleak. ”
With rising unemployment, the same newspaper later informed readers:
"Indexation rises in pensions for aged and invalids, dole for people over 21 and benefits for parents are planned to be curbed, saving the government S150 million p.a. and another $25 million if extended to war veterans pensions. ”
September 11 1986 and PM Hawke breaks yet another election promise. Australia will now sell uranium to France; “They can be trusted to use it only for peaceful purposes,” he said.

French nuclear testing at Mururoa in the Pacific had damaged the volcanic base of the atoll. Future French tests were now planned to take place on the Kerguelen Islands. Prevailing winds and sea currents would carry any radio-active leaks straight to Western Australia. Three leaks from other French nuclear plants were reported within the following year.

With most rank-and-file unions still being subservient and acting as a wing of the Labor Party, “restructuring” and “productivity agreements” were foisted upon workers. An exception was the Air Pilots Federation. A salary dispute led to strike action by airline pilots. The Hawke Labor government quickly intervened. RAAF pilots were used and $100 million of revenue was spent attracting foreign pilots while all the striking pilots were sacked and their Federation destroyed.

Worse off
The second half of the 1980s became “payoff time” for many Labor politicians. During these years many of them resigned from politics and took advantage of generous pay-outs and lucrative job offers from the contacts they had made during their tenure. Examples include Susan Ryan, after 12 years’ service, resigned with 60 percent of her salary for life plus a top job with Penguin Books. Mick Young was another, after many indiscreet “stuff-ups” he resigned after evading smuggling charges. On top of his ministerial lump-sum pay-out he was fixed up as a part-time consultant to Qantas with a salary of $150,000 p.a.

There were the years that the Hawke government interest in privatisation came to the fore, yet again following the path already taken by the UK Conservative “Iron Lady”. Clyde Cameron, former minister in the Whitlam government, accused Hawke of going back on all his principles from his ACTU days. Cameron called for Hawke’s expulsion from the Labor Party.

Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, in Indonesia for trade talks, was seen on TV sipping wine with his hosts while in Timor civilians were being massacred by occupying Indonesian troops.

Labor Senator Graeme Richardson, on a visit to the USA was heard on the radio delivering a speech to American capitalists. He proudly stated that the Hawke government had managed to reduce real wages by 16 percent and he invited American investment in Australia “to take advantage of the cheap labour that we have created. "

The West Australian, 25 February' 1987 reported:
“Young Australian couples are worse off than their parents were. Easy credit and women bringing in a second income have concealed the extent to which living standards have fallen. Even adjusting for inflation, a man must work harder and longer than his father did to house, feed, clothe and educate his children and pay for the necessities of family life.

A woman whose husband is in a job comparable with that of her father, and who wishes to be a full-time home-maker and mother, is likely to face financial destitution. For the past too decades married women have been under increasing financial and social pressure to return to full-time work.

Today’s young couple is likely to be a two-income family, not just until the first child, but for the greater part of their married life. The chances of their marriage failing is at least three times greater than their parents. The labour of two people today earns far less than twice what was acquired through the paid labour of one man a generation ago. ”
The recession hit the stock market. Fortunes were lost as the value of shares and property plummeted. Small investors lost most, or all, of their money while many of the individual “high-flying” corporate tycoons, suddenly now having debts more than the value of their total assets, declared themselves bankrupt, but still mysteriously managed to live in personal luxury.

Federal and State Labor governments now stated they could no longer afford to protect the environment. All charities stated poverty was increasing. Aboriginal poverty remained, as always, a growth industry managed by a multitude of government bureaucrats and civil servants. The Dept of Social Security now expanded rapidly to manage the poverty of the growing number of unemployed.

The 1980s ended with judges and politicians awarding themselves a 20 percent salary increase.

The Spring of 1990 saw the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in Turkey. PM Hawke and other Australian dignitaries journeyed to Anzac Cove where so many young Australians and New Zealanders had uselessly lost their lives in 1915. In an emotional speech, complete with choking voice and tears. Bob Hawke pledged that, “Never again will young Australians be sent to fight and die in wars abroad.” Within a year the Gulf crisis erupted and the Hawke government was the first to support American military' action by sending three warships to fight . . . before the UN had decided what action should be taken.

Back-slapping buddies
The year 1991 at Federal level witnessed the demise of that great I.abor “team” of bosom back-slapping buddies, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The facade of mutual admiration gave way as personal egos and ambition revealed their true relationship . . .  complete with knives protruding from their backs.

Paul Keating made his first challenge for leadership in June, which resulted in failure. He stepped down as Treasurer and was forced to take his exceptional talents to the backbench were he concentrated on accumulating the numbers to support another overthrow attempt and await his opportunity.

The fall of the Labor State government in Western Australia created tremors in the Federal I.abor government. Something was needed to avert the defeat they, themselves, were heading for. A change of leadership was worth a gamble so in December Hawke received a Xmas present by being ousted and replaced by his bitter rival, Paul Keating.

A resentful Bob Hawke resigned and retreated to his millionaire’s mansion overlooking Sydney Harbour and proceeded to write a book of memoirs and criticism of all his colleagues.

While these political somersaults were being enacted, privatisation and restructuring were biting the workforce. Many jobs in the railways and other government departments were made redundant and private contracts were tendered. Cuts in funding for schools, hospitals and roads were made. The Royal Flying Doctor had to appeal to charities for a new aircraft. The Federal Labor government spent $5 billion on six new submarines and vast sums re-equipping the RAAF.
G. Ogglesworth

Press Exposure: Bloody Awful (1995)

Beaverbrook by David Low.
The Press Exposure column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bloody Awful
It must have worked wonders for the sales of the Daily Express when, in the 1960s, no less an expert than the Duke of Edinburgh told some people in Latin America that it was "a bloody awful newspaper”. After all, any man on the promenade in Rhyl or in the back streets of Derby must have sensed that a newspaper which earns that sort of description from a massively boorish social parasite like the Duke must have something to be said for it.

In fact at that time Prince Philip seemed to be locked in unceasing conflict with much of die British press, who gleefully reported all his public relations blunders. For example there was the time he genially soaked an assembly of hacks on a lawn at the Chelsea Flower Show by turning on the sprinkler. The antagonism became so intense that, in the midst of the Profumo affair, the Sunday Express published a remarkable article which, after recounting some of the Duke’s more colourful criticisms of the press, warned that unless he held his tongue the Express newspapers might find it their unavoidable duty as a responsible newspaper serving the great British public to reveal some acutely embarrassing details of his private life.

Those were heady days for the Express which, under the eccentric ownership of Lord Beaverbrook, could take comfort from a circulation of about 4¼ million and a reputation for employing some famous journalists. The paper's success was said to spring from their natural empathy with the sort of people to be found in Rhyl or Derby (other papers, of course, had a direct line with passengers on buses in Clapham; all of them seemed to suffer from identical bigotries and delusions). It is unlikely that the Duke would bother to criticise the Express now when its circulation hovers precariously on 1¼ million after a fall of about 6.5 percent over the past year.

Beaverbrook bought the Daily Express for £ 17,500 in 1916 and a couple of years later started up its stablemate on Sundays. To say that he stamped his—rather objectionable—personality on the paper would be an understatement, although he did not baulk [balk?] at employing journalists like Michael Foot and Tom Driberg who had political disagreements with him. He was not always frank about his motives. In 1927 he pretended to give up his interest in the papers by passing his controlling interest over to his son. In 1954 it was the Beaverbrook Foundation, supposedly too purely objective to be interested in any sordid political ambitions, which was said to have been given the ownership. He was more open when he gave his evidence to the Royal Commission on the Press in 1947: "I run the paper purely for the purpose of making propaganda and with no other motive."

Of course other people saw Beaverbrook’s motives in a rather different light We have already mentioned how wounded were the delicate sensitivities of Prince Philip. He was only one of the more recent examples. In 1930 Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, smarting under some particularly savage attacks in the papers, included Beaverbrook in the press barons who aimed at “. . . power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."

Well, whatever else may be said about this particular harlot no one can accuse her of having a knack for infallible forecasts. In May 1938 the Daily Express assured its readers that Germany would not seize Czechoslovakia. In September that year it declared on its front page that "Britain will not be involved in a European war this year, or next year either.” Staunchly supportive of the Tory Party, it ran a typically flamboyant selective and disastrous campaign in the 1945 general election. Time will tell whether it got it right when it supported Major in the recent Tory leadership election.

The long drawn out decline of the Daily Express set in after the death of Beaverbrook and has continued through several changes of ownership and management. After Beaverbrook there was his son Max Aitken whose talents as a fighter pilot and a playboy did not extend to running a newspaper. There was Jocelyn Stevens who was sacked by Lord Matthews who ran the great combine Trafalgar House. Stevens, who was a millionaire merchant banker, maintained the Express tradition for getting it wrong when he said in 1987 that the stock market fall should be ignored as it was only a computer blip. The present Managing Director, Andrew Cameron, recently announced an economy drive in which 220 workers would lose their jobs ". . . to put us into fighting shape. (The cuts) are about securing the future."

There may be people—in Rhyl, in Derby—who will ask what shape, what future, what security? In other places too. In July the MP for Manchester Gorton, Gerald Kaufman, told the Commons about how some of the people in that city live. Taking the national mortality rate as 100, in Manchester it is 163 for men and 148 for women. The rate for stillbirths in England and Wales is 4.2 percent, in Manchester it is 6.4 percent. For infant mortality Manchester rates 8.4 percent against 6.5 percent for the rest of Britain. These are symptoms of the extremes of poverty, of the stresses of unemployment which force down the wages of whose who are in work; Kaufman mentioned one man who works 64 and 72 hours a week whose hourly rate of pay has been cut from £3.02 to £2.35.

The poverty endured by these people is extreme in comparison but not too exceptional in its nature. Rather, it is conventional to capitalism, part of the process which produces rich people like Lords Beaverbrook, Matthews and Stevens we are supposed to admire and poor people, in Rhyl, Derby. Manchester or wherever, we are encouraged to despise. The Express may be a bloody awful newspaper but there are no bloody good ones and it speaks for a bloody dreadful social system.

50 Years Ago: Britain’s Third 
Labour Government (1995)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Britain’s Third 
Labour Government
“This time there can be 
no Alibis ”
For the third time Great Britain witnesses the spectacle of capitalism being administered by a Labour Government—though this time with a difference. The Labour Governments which entered office in January. 1924 (for eleven months) and in June 1929 (for two years) had only minority representation in the House of Commons, and were dependent on the support of Members of Parliament belonging to the Liberal Party. This time the Liberal Party is almost wiped out (only twelve M.P.s in a House of 640), and the Labour Party has an overwhelming majority.

The experiment now being embarked upon is that of trying to run the capitalist system as if it were not a capitalist system. A Labour Government is going to try to straddle the class struggle and to represent at one and the same time the interests of the owning class, and of the class exploited by the owning class! Labour supporters expectantly and hopefully await the outcome. Socialists do not need to wait to prophesy failure.

After experiencing Labour attempts to run capitalism in Great Britain the workers will discover that Labour administrators cannot make capitalism function in any but the accustomed way.

(From an article in Socialist 
Standard September 1945)

University Challenge (1995)

Party News from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you a student or employee at a college or University? Would you like to assist the spread of socialist ideas within your College or University? If so, you may be interested to know that the Socialist Party has embarked upon a nationwide campaign, leading up to and during the 1995/1996 academic session, to make its viewpoint more widely known within the student community to 1) attract more students into the Socialist Party and in the longer term 2) set up a national network of Socialist Student Societies.

The campaign will involve compiling a database of contacts (who will be put in touch with each other) in higher education establishments, writing to student societies and offering to provide them with Socialist Party speakers for meetings and debates, making our presence felt at Freshers’ Fairs and, finally, organising a one — or possibly two — day Winter School in London (involving workshops, meetings, debates & video-shows) in early December.

If you would like to get involved, please write as soon as possible to:

“University Challenge" 

c/o The Socialist Party, 
52 Clapham High Street, 

London SW4 7UN

World View: Sliding into the Economic Mire (1995)

From the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the moment of writing, there is something of a stalemate between the Mexican government and the Zapatista Liberation Army in Chiapas. It could, of course, be the calm before the storm. Nevertheless, Mexico is far from tranquil. And throughout this year, the economy has gone from bad to worse.

Negotiations between the United States and the Mexican government, in an attempt by the Clinton administration to bail Mexico out of its economic crisis, began in the middle of February, and lasted six days before an agreement was reached. The Americans offered Mexico a loan of $20 billion in an attempt to stabilise the peso. At least that was the idea. Mexico promptly raised short-term interest rates by 10 percent and the rate on some government debts to 50 percent.

The Americans naturally drove a hard bargain. They insisted that PEMEX, the state-owned Mexican oil company, must deposit payment into an account of the US Federal Reserve Bank, where it can be withdrawn if the Mexican government defaults on the loan. Instead of American companies and corporations paying Mexico directly for oil, American companies would deposit payments with the Federal Reserve Bank, which would transfer them to Mexico at a later date. Hopefully, Mexico would receive an international rescue package of up to $50 billion.

Slashing living standards
As always, the ordinary people, the workers and peasants, were the first to suffer the consequences of the agreement. Guillermo Ortiz, the Finance Minister, said that Mexico "had been living beyond its means and running up debts it could not pay”. And continued: "It will be difficult for all Mexicans . . . There are no easy solutions." Instead of the 4 percent economic growth which President Zedillo had promised for 1995, he now expected a recession. The economy would, in fact, decline by 2 percent, and prices would rise by more than 40 percent. But Mr Ortiz had a plan; he also called for “extraordinary efforts" from citizens (i.e. the workers and peasants) "to make the plan work”.

Most workers would get only a 4 percent rise in wages, with the minimum salary, on which large sections of the Mexican working class depend, up by 10 percent from April. Indeed, there had already been a 100 percent increase in public transport fares and a 56 percent fall in purchasing power since December 1994. Fuel prices were to rise 35 percent, and the sales tax (like VAT) would be increased from ten to fifteen percent In March, a survey showed that 46 percent of companies expected to sack at least some of their workforce; and 16 percent expected to close down altogether. About 750,000 workers were expected to lose their jobs before September.

At the end of May. however, Michel Camdessus, the director-general of the International Monetary Fund, said that he was confident that the economy in Mexico was "headed for recovery”. But Guillermo Ortiz admitted that the worst of the crisis was yet to come; and Jose Luis Romero of Canancintra, which represents small and medium-sized businesses, predicted that job losses could reach 1.2 million by the end of December. And, indeed, unemployment had risen by 800,000 by the middle of July, and by more than one million by early August. The suicide rate has also risen sharply since the end of last year. Writing in the Guardian (10 July), Edward Balls, editor of the 1995 World Development Report, said: “the recession is expected to last into next year and living standards continue to plunge". He added: "In today's world of fast-moving, global capital markets, it is the workers who bear the brunt of financial crises.” Of course! But it has always been thus. Controlling capitalism’s crises is an impossible task, as Mexico's politicians, and so-called economists, have discovered.

Further unrest
Mexico's workers and peasants have lot entirely taken the worsening situation lying down although, as workers elsewhere, they tend to react to effects rather than organise to get rid of the cause—capitalism itself—of their misery.

In March, more than 100,000 people converged on the Zocalo, in the centre of Mexico City, to demand the withdrawal of the Army from Chiapas. The army is still there. In recent local elections, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which, under various names, has governed Mexico for more than six decades, has been losing out to the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and, to a lesser extent, the left-wing Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), both of which, despite their "revolutionary” tag. are thoroughly reformist

And away from Chiapas, in the adjoining state of Guerrero to the west, guerrilla activity has, once again, flared up. In June, 17 peasants on their way to a protest meeting, were killed in Coyuca dc Benitez by armed police; and at the beginning of July five policemen were ambushed and killed, and two wounded, near Cualiac, north-cast of Acapulco. This was almost certainly in revenge for the killing of the peasants. Indeed, armed insurrections in Guerrero against agents of the Mexican state have occurred on and off since 1910.
Peter E. Newell

The End — or the Beginning? (1995)

From the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism is dead! So say all the capitalist political pundits. Yet not one of them is able to point to a single example of how the late 'communism' of Russia and the 'socialism' of the Labour Party differs (or has ever differed) in any essential detail from the private capitalism they extol.
At the beginning of the present decade a new sense of optimism was being promoted by the politicians and the media throughout Europe and the United States. The “evil empire”, as some western politicians referred to the authoritarian state-capitalist tyranny in Russia and her satellites states, was rapidly disintegrating, ending, it was hoped, decades of fear and terror.

Western propagandists insisted that what the world was witnessing was the death agonies of socialism. They were persisting in the lie that Socialism or Communism—which terms describe the system of democratic political and social equality envisaged by Marx and the pioneers of the Socialist movement—was the rotten political corpse that was decaying in Moscow.

Even when western correspondents, like the BBC’s John Simpson, were directly drawing attention to the riches and dissolute life-styles of the Russian ruling class and contrasting this with the misery and impoverishment of the Russian workers, they were using the lie that Russia was communist, that it was the result of a contradiction-in-terms known as “Marxist-Leninism” and that there could be such a thing as a “Marxist government”—the latter being the terminology laid down as policy by the World Service of the BBC.

It was a time for euphoria among the capitalist class and their political agents, many of whom, it has to be said, were ignorant enough to believe their own propaganda that communism had died by its own hand in Russia. Theirs, they believed, was the victory; henceforth the world—including the huge potential market and the teeming natural resources of the vast “Soviet” territories—was their oyster.

More good news
There was more good news, too, for those capitalists and their political agents who saw capitalism as being best served by governments that interfered as little as possible in its workings. In the early days of capitalism the rapacity and sheer social irresponsibility of this school of economic thought had existed political opposition from the working class and die labour unions. On die continent political parties opposed to non-interference by government in the affairs of capitalism (the policy of laissez-faire as it was known) surfaced towards the end of the last century. In Britain the Labour Party came into existence in 1906.

Before die turn of the century, some of the continental parties paid lip-service to Socialism but, despite claim and counterclaim, none of these political parties advocated the abolition of capitalism with its wages and money systems in favour of a Socialist system firmly rooted in common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. To a greater or lesser extent, the economic philosophy of these organisations was directed at amending capitalism by intervening in its administration in the belief that the grosser aspects of poverty, such as social destitution, unemployment and slums, could be planned out of the system. Henceforth, in those states of capitalism where political democracy prevailed, the political struggle was between die Left and the Right and the substance of their political conflict concerned only the view of each as to the role government should play in the administration of capitalism.

But in the post-war period the lines between Left and Right became blurred and sometimes even obscured. The belief prevailed in both camps that the interventionist doctrines of John Maynard Keynes could be used as the means of ironing out the traditional boom-slump syndrome of capitalism. The economic experts believed they had discovered a new means of controlling the system, a means that would enable governments to check capitalism’s periodic crises. Problems like acute unemployment could be planned out of the system and this would provide revenue, through increased production and greater productivity, to establish schemes of social welfare that would themselves have a beneficial effect on the economy.

That the experts and the politicians of the Left and the Right were wrong is a matter of historical record. Initially, making good the destruction and scarcities caused by the war convinced the Keynesian faithful that their system of “demand management” was really working but inevitably the crises of capitalism recurred: unemployment grew steadily, tax revenue fell as unemployment and other social security benefits soared. Government were forced not only to increase taxation but to debase the currency by printing money to meet demands on the Exchequer.

The result was spiralling inflation which became a post-war economic phenomenon. It provided an excuse, albeit a false one, for the increases in unemployment and it led to strenuous demands by the agents and servants of capital for public spending cuts which meant systematically reducing welfare and health benefits.

Left goes right
The entire political philosophy of the Left was being debunked. On the Right, the concept of a compassionate capitalism which had proved a vote-winner became political anathema. “Trickle down economics”, as the academic harlots of American capitalism euphemistically dubbed the return to the old forms of financial barbarism, became the new buzz-phrase. Its implications were simple enough: if government allowed capitalism to accelerate the rate of exploitation, through cheap labour and the abolition of those benefits which unions had won for their members, then the capitalists’ appetite would be so satiated with profits that more crumbs would be allowed to fall down to the workers. Thatcher and her gross political playmates called it monetarism but one of its first earnest practitioners was Dennis Healey, the last Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain.

The Left had to face facts; where capitalism had to meet high on-costs resulting from taxation and ancillary benefits to its workforce, it was less able to compete, especially against the dynamic low-waged economies of its newly-emerged competitors. “Less able” effectively means loss of orders, increased unemployment and reduced social services.

In the past, when, for example, Labour was in office in Britain, governments attempted, with limited success, to curb wage increases in order to make British capitalism more competitive. Despite wage “freezes”, “compacts” and legislative restrictions on pay increases, every single Labour government in Britain, and most elsewhere, left office with more people unemployed than there had been under the previous administration.

The knowledge that a government cannot legislate rules of civilised behaviour for its national segment of world capitalism is now well-known to serious politicians on the Left. That is why Labour and social democratic parties have largely abandoned policies of nationalisation and other forms of state interventionism and now openly contend with the Right on the straightforward basis of their alleged better abilities to run capitalism than their opponents.

The end of history
That knowledge formed part of the back ground to the demise of state capitalism in the East, where wasteful, low-productive employment was a general substitute for the dole. Now it seemed that on all fronts capitalism stood victorious. Its eastern competitor, with its frightening military capacity, was dismantling its massive structures of state control of industry and commerce while, elsewhere, the more venial Left was defeated and where it retained a measure of political influence (as in France) it did so by openly espousing free market policies.

Some of capitalism’s secular saints, its pensioned “experts” and visionless “philosophers” were quick to assure their masters that we had reached the end of history. Henceforth capitalism would be inviolable, its tenure unbroken and unchallenged by any alternative form of social order. Communism, the legend ran, had been tried and failed; Socialism had been tried and failed. The fools fell victims to their own ignorance.

That humanity should face an endless future of unbridled greed, competition and conflict must strike terror in the minds of the working class in general and young people and parents in particular. One has only to look at the emaciation of the unions, the change in labour practices from jobs to contracts and the implications of more generalised part-time wage-slavery to see part of capitalism’s vision for the future of the working class.

End of an era
Socialism, or Communism—the two terms mean the same thing—defines a social order in which the resources of the Earth and the tools of production and distribution are owned in common by the entire human family. It means human beings co-operatively and democratically using these means to produce and distribute all the needs of society. It means people contributing their skills and energies voluntarily to the productive and distributive processes and taking from the store of commonly-owned wealth the goods and services they need without any form of payment whatsoever.

Not only has this form of free, classless, wageless, moneyless and stateless society never been tried anywhere, it obviously could only exist on a world-wide basis. So what is the corpse over which the ghouls of capitalism sing their paean of exultation if it is not Socialism?

The ghost that now rots in the cesspit of history is that of the dream that capitalism could be made less gross, less brutal, less rapacious, less wasteful of human life if it could be rationally controlled by governments. We have to allow that good men and women entertained that dream; that they strove to make it reality and that they failed. Today the vultures that inherited their cause, the Blairs and company, are without a dream beyond their personal placement in capitalism’s pecking order.

The nightmare continues without the illusionary dream; history has not ended but that phase which entertained the futile hope that a system based on the exploitation of the working class could function in the interests of that class is gone. It has cleared the way for the struggle for Socialism.
Richard Montague

More Satanic Verses (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hell is Camden Town as the sunsets. Drunks stagger towards gutters which are home; the children of the hypodermic needle inject some bought and deadly fake happiness; the old ones who chatter to themselves speak of “bastards” who tried to push them off the bus and bomb shelters where the roof leaked; the girls on the game pursue what only something as monstrous as capitalism could boast of as the “oldest profession”, selling submission for the price of fast-food; a man with a metal stick limps nowhere in particular and curses blacks, as if they all made him lame; a Dickensian figure whose arse is literally hanging out of his trousers sings “There’ll Always Be An England” and holds out his dirt-caked hand for pennies that will not come; kids lie in doorways in sleeping bags which should be used for jolly camping trips, but are now the substitute for home for thousands in a country which has more empty houses than homeless people; and the police shoot past in cars with Nazi-like sirens, now to collect their kebab and then to intervene in a fight between two wage slaves who enjoyed their evening’s release from misery so much that they tried to kick each other’s brains out over a penalty decision in a football match.

Graffiti on the wall says “Wogs Out”, “Cath Loves Jason”, (who is probably the Jason who will always be separated by a thick glass TV screen) and “Don’t Pay The Poll Tax” (as if the Council Tax is somehow' a merciful release from oppression). Now here is it scrawled “Dante Woz Here”, but it feels like there could not have been a much better inspiration for his vision of Hell than the streets which we have become used to. Perhaps that is the one thing worse then eternal damnation: not knowing that you’re in hell.

Camden Town is not unique. It just happens that this writer is there frequently, witnessing the destitution of the people of this late-twentieth-century abyss and the impossibility to pass by without the inner sense of wanting to vomit, as if the malignant sore was within rather than all around. Visiting Easterhouse in Glasgow or Handsworth in Birmingham or Toxteth in Liverpool or St Pauls in Bristol or the South Bronx of New York the same gaping pits of urban hell scream out, echoing in their impotent rage the high boasts of the market which will provide life for anyone at a price—and will strip you layer-by-layer of living dignity if you are short of the price.

The hell which was Auschwitz or Dachau is the most pregnant image of brutality available to our modern senses. Nothing compares with the total awfulness of systematic, industrial genocide. Visiting Dachau, the overwhelming memory is not the gas chambers or the starkly sadistic regulations on the wall or the infertile land all around the camp where plant life simply will not grow; it is the hill overlooking Dachau camp where houses stand and stood as workers were being tortured and exterminated. Somebody was looking on. Perhaps they walked the dog or told the children not to run too close to the wire. Maybe they too just vomited within, refusing to lift a finger because it was someone else confined to hell for now .

But the most moving scenes from the camps—for this writer at least—were the photographs of liberation. We do not know what those who survived were thinking. But we know what they were entitled historically to think: Why, oh why, did you not come sooner?

Be clear, this is not about saving other people—although wishing to unlock the doors of hell is no act to be ashamed of. But the platitudes of moralising salvation can be left to others who make a business from it, sitting in their golden Vatican palace and archbishops' mansions weeping crocodile tears for the poor “who will always be with us” as Christ was so eager to remind us.

Why abolish hell on earth? Because it is near me and its stink can't be avoided. Because its flames are unpredictable and catch passers-by who imagined they were safe. Because most people reading this are only an insecure job and a few pounds in the bank away from the gutter. Because Dickens, when his family lost its money, was confined to the hell of Camden Town and after a century of energetic reforming the ragged wretches of its streets would still be recognised by him. Perhaps because it is impossible to be a complete human while others are being dehumanised before us. To live on the hill overlooking the death camp of our own times—which we don’t call death camps because only the future recognises the indifference to such miseries which are so conveniently and euphemistically hidden from the moment of the present tense—is to be a collaborator in something so awful that one must either ignore it or destroy it, putting in its place something which seems decent.
Steve Coleman

These Foolish Things: All power corrupts . . . (1995)

The Scavenger column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

All power corrupts . . .

Harold Geneen from Bournemouth is 85. ITT, the enormous business empire he built up so ruthlessly in the United States, making gross profits of £16 billion, is beginning to break up without his ruthless dominance.

Employing over 300,000 people and owning telephone networks, the chain of Sheraton hotels, Avis car rentals, a bread firm. Abbey Life insurance and many other companies, ITT consolidated its wealth and power through corruption and bribery. Under Geneen’s control, it helped the CIA undermine Salvador Allende’s government in Chile, and he became known as the most powerful man in the capitalist world.

Recent commentators suggest that such tycoons arc now features of capitalism’s unrespectable past. They have conveniently ignored the increasing shadows being cast by men like Rupert Murdoch.

Poverty causes violence

“From 1950 onwards, the average rate of increase in crimes of violence was an extra 3,000 a year. Between 1980 and 1986, it rose at a rate of 4,000 a year. But in the eight years since 1987, there have been, on average, a grisly 12,000 more violent crimes a year . . .

“ . . . we know more about what causes violence than we do about almost any other human behaviour . . . Studies of identical twins and of adopted boys show that genetics, testosterone levels and brain damage play little or no part in creating a violent character. It is the history of the violent man that is critical, not his physical makeup. In short, it is what happened to him in his family . . .

“A universally accepted Home Office study, which ran from 1958 to 1990, followed 411 boys from age eight to 32. It showed that 40 percent of those from the poorest homes become seriously violent at some point. The poorer the boy’s home, the greater the likelihood of a violent outcome . . .

“The future holds little hope. When it comes to violence in Britain, it looks as though things can only get worse.” Oliver James, Night and Day, 16 July 1995.


Bulgari, the Italian firm that recently went public, produces exclusively for the international capitalist class. The prices they charge ensure that. They sell a platinum watch for £106,000, necklaces for over a million pounds each, and Claudia Schiffer’s engagement ring from David Copperfield at £3 million.

The Scavenger

Obituary: Alan Partner (1995)

Obituary from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alan joined the old Southend Branch in the early days after the War. He was a very regular attender of branch meetings, serving for a while as Branch Secretary and supporting sea-front meetings.

The political climate at the time lent itself to door-to-door selling of the Socialist Standard and Alan joined with other local members in canvassing with enthusiasm. A man of few words but, nevertheless, a good propagandist over many years.

Alan died on 12 April and he remained until then in contact with us and we shall miss him.
Harold Cottis

Letters: 'Socialist Material will be Dwarfed' (1995)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In response to Julian Prior’s letter about the article on the Internet in the August issue of Socialist Standard I’d like to make a few points.

The first one is that the Internet is just like other information disseminators such as newspapers, books and magazines except it’s electronic and generally cheaper. For instance the Socialist Standard is a hard copy form of information distributed to a few thousand around the world and compared to the Sun, a tabloid gossip rag in the UK. which is read by around four million daily it doesn’t compare.

Similarly, on the net socialists distribute their information electronically but once the big corporations move in, again, socialist material will be dwarfed. It's true what he says about groups resisting this encroachment by corporations onto the net, but that's capitalism isn’t it? The past 200 years of capitalism has been about people resisting the commercialisation of life. It's also true what he says about Mexico and the Mayan rebels, indeed the same could be said about the Russian coup attempt in 1991 or Tiananmen Square both of which used fax and computer technology to alert the world. But what’s new about this? In the past, rebellions and wars were brought to public view using newspapers or leaflets. All that has changed is the method not the content. It’s also true that socialists won’t stand aside whilst the corporations move in, but if the Internet is growing at such a rate then socialists will be sidelined. If half the net is commercialised now after only two or three years of real net use then what’s it going to be like in 10 years?

My general view is that we should see the net for what it is, a convenient and valuable information and communication resource and use it as such. In fact that’s what I find exciting about the net, the accessibility of information and its global reach. I certainly don't think it will go away, but I'm sure that this new global reach of the net is going to be used by corporations for their own ends.

As for how people are going to become socialists if information is market-led, people become socialists for various reasons. not exclusively through access to socialist literature. In some ways it could be argued that people have to be socialist or socialistically-inclined to know where to get socialist literature in the first place, in other words most socialist literature preaches to the semi-converted anyway. But, of course this shouldn’t mean that socialist literature has no wider value, as people's life experiences and increasing global outlook encourages them to look for better ways to manage our world then socialism will become an increasingly viable option. 
Jonathan Meakin, 
Leixlip, Co. Kildare,
Ireland (

Band Aids and Aspirin

Dear Editors,

No doubt there is a need for the relief given to the desperate. poor, starving and sick people of the Third World by various charities, including Oxfam (Socialist Standard July). Just as there is no doubt that there is a need for the secondhand clothing sold to the poorest people in this country by Oxfam and other charities.

The fact is, however, that a world in which some depend on charitable schemes for bare subsistence. and others, the admittedly less absolutely poor, depend on the discarded clothing of the more affluent, is a sick world. Charity, I am sure the most fervent Oxfam supporter must admit, is not a solution, but band aid or aspirin at best Socialism is the cure.
Robert Taylor, 
South Shields, Tyne & Wear

In defense of Islam

Dear Editors,

I am writing in response to A. Ditta's letter about "Socialism versus Islam" (Socialist Standard, August). In his letter, Ditta states that "Islam is a very oppressive religion depriving women, gays and other minority groups of fundamental rights". I find this statement very hard to swallow. The goal of Islam is to give rights to all people in order to create a just and tolerant society. In pre-lslamic Arabia, a woman was looked down upon as a source of grief, and baby girls were sometimes buried alive. Henry VIII forbade the women in England to read the Bible, and throughout the middles ages, the Catholic Church treated women as second-class citizens. Before 1850, women were not counted as citizens in England and English women had no personal rights until 1882 (Islam: Beliefs and Teachings, Ghulam Sarwar). Under Islam, women have had all of these rights and more for fourteen hundred years. As for Islam being oppressive towards minority groups. I’m not quite sure to whom A. Ditta is referring. If Ditta is referring to “racial minorities", I will point out that Islam embraces people of all colours. If Ditta is referring to the economic minority, the upper class, s/he can rest assured that they are not deprived of their fundamental rights. I am not clear on whether or not gays are deprived of their fundamental rights, so I must abstain from making any comment at the present moment.

Islam's main goal can be paralleled to one of the goals of socialism. This goal is to create a just, loving and tolerant society. It is compulsory for Muslims to give charity and the richer members of society are advised to spread their wealth throughout the community to try and balance the unequal distribution of wealth. It is true that Muslim countries have a record of abusing human rights, but the religion of Islam cannot be blamed for that. Many people in power abuse human rights on a regular basis and use Islam to justify their actions. They cloak their sins by falsely sighting Islam as the reason for what they do. It is these people who are responsible for denying fundamental rights to other human beings, not Islam. Erum Faruqi, 
London SWI

Assuming that Erum Faruqi is correct about the goals of Islam being to create a "just, loving and tolerant society” the fact remains that it has failed to do so in fourteen hundred years. If Islam is such a powerful force of good and tolerance then these abusers of human rights would not have got to the positions they have. It is strange that one cannot cite a single Islamic country that lives up to the ideals that she refers to. or even comes anywhere near—the divisions of wealth in all of them is as great as anywhere else. The answer, of course, is that Muslims put their trust in leaders (both religious and secular) instead of themselves and that is fatal.

Islam accepts the class nature of society though it had some difficulties in embracing the capitalist form but in the end managed to find a way round that. There's an old saying about the rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs and this is precisely what the rich Muslims who "spread their wealth throughout the community” are doing. They still rely on the exploitation of Muslim and other workers to maintain their wealth and privilege and then arc “generous" enough to hand a few coins of conscience money back.

Erum Faruqi says that a goal of Islam is to give rights to all people. Who are these people who are to bestow these rights? Probably the very same people she accuses of abusing human rights. Socialists don’t want to be given anything by the capitalist class, our aim is to get the majority producing class in society to take democratically the resources of the world and use them for the benefit of all. As socialists we aren't concerned whether Islam is or is not better than other religions. As far as we are concerned all religions—Islam, Christianity. Judaism. Hinduism. Buddhism, the lot—are absurd and wrong.

Islam may have started out with good intentions but now workers all over the world should start questioning their religious beliefs and their support of leaders and ask themselves if they can better their situation by organising together democratically to build a socialist movement which won’t be able to be hijacked by power-seekers who use the discontent of workers to get to the top. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

SPGB Meetings (1995)

Party News from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Editorial: The Crisis and prices and incomes (1966)

Editorial from the September 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was clear at the time that many Labour supporters, in their jubilation at the victory last March, were overlooking an inconvenient fact. Coming back to power with a decisive majority meant that they had to carry the can; there could be no more excuses.

But of course excuses have been made; they have been falling' thick and fast in the latest financial crisis which British capitalism finds itself in.

Harold Wilson has blamed the panic on to the seamen’s strike; the increase in the price of copper; the Vietnam war; the activities of foreign financiers. He summarised all his excuses in the most famous of them all—the government, he said, had been “blown off course”.

This must have reminded many people of the excuse used by the lamentable Labour government of 1929/31— that they had been struck by an economic blizzard. It is true that capitalism is like a treacherous sea where sudden tempests sweep from over the horizon. But no one should forget Labour’s persistent claim that they could control the economic weather and navigate the ship into blue skies and calm waters.

The facts stand clear. The Labour Party won power in 1964 on the slogan Let’s Go; now they stand for stagnation and recession. They said they would organise a “planned growth of incomes”; now they are imposing a wage freeze. They are the successors of the Labour Representation Committee, which was formed to promote the interests of trade unions in Parliament; now they are pushing through the first openly anti-union legislation in over forty years.

Many union leaders have expressed angry astonishment at the Prices and Incomes Bill, as if this was something the Labour Party had only just thought of. But they had the experience of the Attlee government to guide them, as well as the speeches of Labour leaders when they were out of power:
No one can afford to dodge the issue. Some people prefer to call it wage restraint . . . Labour wants to be able to prevent the total money income rising faster than the total production . . . (James Callaghan, Labour Party Conference, 1962).

We in the Labour Party have the right to ask for this (incomes) policy because we are willing to create conditions in which it can be established . . .We can make the national appeal that is needed because, for us, an incomes policy is the condition of sustained growth . . . (Harold Wilson. Birmingham 19/1/64.)
It is now up to the union leaders to ponder on their continued support for the Labour government—and for their, members to judge them on it.

What of the future?

Whether the unions accept the provisions of the Bill, or whether they try to lake advantage of the same sort of market forces which the government say will be allowed to work unhindered on prices, it is clear that more storms lie ahead.

Perhaps the officials of some of the big unions which have declared that they will ignore, or oppose, the Bill will find themselves in prison for contempt of court after refusing to pay fines imposed under the Bill’s provisions.

It would be fitting if a Labour government, with a long history of anti-trade union activity behind it—including the prosecution of strikers—should end up by making a martyr out of Frank Cousins.

We can look forward, in the days ahead, to the similarity between the Labour and Conservative parties becoming more and more obvious. In the current crisis, this similarity has already impressed almost every political commentator; perhaps it will also get through to some of their readers, and encourage them to grasp some important facts.

Both Labour and Tory parties stand for capitalism. The differences between them are superficial: both aim at running the capitalist social system.

One difference between them is that the Labour Party have claimed to be a Socialist organisation. Events have exposed this notion for all time.

Socialism will be a society of co-operation and freedom, where men will control their environment and really be able to plan their affairs. This is a world away from the sordid turmoil of class interests and economic anarchy in which the Labour Party are enmeshed.

Capitalism: the crisis society (1966)

From the September 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the American political system the President makes an annual speech under the title “The State of the Nation”. Since Harold Wilson became Prime Minister he has taken up this practice, only his title has become—the Nation In A State.

Despite the vagaries of the British electoral system which seldom produces a House of Commons with a composition equating to the votes cast, it was not surprising when the Labour Party won the election of October, 1964. For some time political and economic commentators had been suggesting that perhaps the Conservative Government was getting tired after 13 years in office and a new virile Labour Party under the leadership of Harold Wilson was proclaiming that it could get Britain moving again.

This time there were no phoney references to Socialism. The whole case of the Labour Party as enunciated by Wilson and company rested on the premise that they could manage the affairs of society—capitalism, that is—more efficiently than the Conservatives. Indeed the nationalisation of steel was not presented as a means to equalise the ownership of wealth, which had been alleged of previous acts of nationalisation, but purely as the way in which to increase the efficiency of the industry and its ability to supply the home market and compete abroad.

Immediately upon taking office the government was faced with problems—as if there was a time when the managers of capitalism didn't have problems—and within a month Bank Rate was raised to seven per cent for the first time since the merry days of Selwyn Lloyd. Further, Chancellor of the Exchequer Callaghan introduced import surcharges, tougher hire purchase restrictions and took the unprecedented step of announcing increases in taxation to be introduced in his forthcoming budget of April, 1965.

Whilst these measures were regretted they were blamed on the state of the economy at the time the Labour Party succeeded the Conservative government. At worst, however, they were to be short term emergency measures whilst the government prepared its plans that would revitalise the British economy.

A number of new agencies, led by the Productivity, Prices and Incomes Board, were formed under George Brown, the Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, in charge of the Department of Economic Affairs. If capitalism could be planned the machinery to do it had now been created. In the autumn of 1965 after one year in office the National Plan was produced and Mr. Brown, forgetting the lesson he should have learned from Rab Butler, was proclaiming an increase in the standard of living of 25 per cent in five years.

At the same time a number of journals and economists were no longer supporting the government and indeed were becoming critical of its handling of the economy, especially with regard to the exchange value of sterling which was saved from a crisis only by obtaining concerted support from friendly governments. They were friendly to the extent that 40 per cent of world trade is conducted through sterling and if it were devalued they would have to bear some of the loss and the probability of devaluing their own currency.

It was widely held that the economic climate would become decidedly colder during the winter of 1965. Indeed this appeared to be the opinion of the government also. Minister of Labour Gunter was to the forefront of the week-end speakers with their tale of woe as indicated by this extract reported in The Observer of 9th January, 1966: “If we cannot or will not match our productivity to our spending, then measures deflationary in character must follow and unemployment will arise.”

But so unmanageable and unplannable is capitalism that the economy did not deteriorate in the manner envisaged and Wilson was able to have an election in March 1966, and get returned with a massive majority on the slogan “You Know Labour Government Works”.

Indeed the following budget of May surprised all the professionals in not increasing taxation immediately; the new innovation of selective employment tax would not take effect until the autumn.

Even if at this stage the government thought it had the situation under control, its passage had not been without incident. Although the TUC had reluctantly and grudgingly agreed to acquiesce to the part allocated it in the government's charade, those individual unions which had tried to protect or improve the position of their members had met with open hostility from a government party spawned of the trade union movement. Mr. Aubrey Jones, the chairman of the Prices and Incomes Board with all the comfort and security of a £15,000 per year salary, was telling various groups of workers that they could not have an increase of wages until they reduced overtime and became more productive in the normal working day. The Railway workers, thinking they were more secure under the umbrella of the Cameron and Guillebaud reports accepted by a Conservative government, were told by Wilson over a glass of beer at Number Ten that they could not have the rise, despite the threat of a strike. And the seamen who actually did strike could not obtain the rise they sought. During this same period members of Parliament, doctors, senior civil servants and others obtained increases equal to the average wage of those refused.

Let there be no mistake about it; controlling capitalism is impossible. It is not only the British government that is telling its working class that they are overpaid and underworked. Germany, Japan and others which for so long have been offered as examples and targets to aim for are suffering the same troubles. The workers in those countries resort to strike action in support of their struggles and they in turn are urged by their capitalist class to return to work, not ask for higher wages and not to damage the economy.

For a long time now it has been impossible, unless you are cut off from all dissemination of news, not to be aware that the British capitalist class had problems. The balance of trade, the balance of payments and exchange value of sterling were going from weakness to weakness. And the master planners were helpless. The manner in which Wilson made his announcement before going to Moscow only helped to exacerbate the sterling crisis. And the plans, oh yes, they will always have plans, which were delayed so that they would be complete when they were announced were in fact further amended and reinterpreted for the following ten days.

Naturally those further plans brought further discussion and the opinion now hardening among the '‘experts'’ is that the latest measures would cause deflation and consequently unemployment this autumn. When announcing the measures in Parliament on July 20th Prime Minister Wilson said: “I do not think the House would consider a rise of up to two per cent (470,000) unemployment unacceptable.” At a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting of July 26th Michael Foot asked what would the government do if unemployment reached unmanageable proportions. To which Mr. Wilson replied—they had plans.

It is no part of our case that the Labour and Conservative governments fail because they are not doing the correct thing. If the Socialist Party of Great Britain was foolish enough to attempt the job of managing capitalism it, too, would fail. The vital point that the Socialist Party makes to political discussion is to point out the nature of capitalism and the reason why it can never be other than the way we know it.

Capitalism is a competitive society. Firm competes with firm, industry with industry, country with country, and eventually continent with continent. Never mind that the commodities produced satisfy some human need—and that is not always the case—the motive for production is that the person or persons who put up the original capital for the operation shall at the end receive back their money plus a profit. And the whole operation is enacted for the securing of that profit. If the market conditions are such that the rate of profit, or even the profit itself, is in doubt then production is curtailed.

The trouble with British capitalism today is that it has become senile. It may have been the front runner during an earlier period of capitalism but the nature of the commodities produced and the materials required for that production is changing and the advantage is flowing to other countries. As is often the case, the ageing and formerly successful participator is reluctant to change.

This is not to say that British capitalism is not as successful as it can be within these limitations. The idea held in common by Mr. Wilson and company directors, and usually expressed by the latter over their third pre-lunch gin and tonic, that workers are lazy and inefficient, is belied by the fact that most firms, both large and small, continually and ruthlessly examine their costs to see that they extract every globule of surplus value.

Notwithstanding all the plans, politicians and business men do not run capitalism. Rather the system pushes them around in the manner of a grotesque Punch and Judy show. Despite all the writing on today’s wall there still might not be any crisis this year. It may turn out as Mr. Wilson envisages with half a million unemployed, or, as some pessimistic economist predict, unemployed might reach a million. There is still the possibility of a crisis reaching the proportions of that suffered in the Thirties. Such is the nature of capitalism that nobody knows. Not even the planners.

On the other hand the Socialist Party does not have any plans for socialism. All we can do is to urge you to consider the idea that the productive forces of society be utilised to produce those things urgently required by men and women everywhere. The adequate satisfaction of those basic human requirements: food, clothing and shelter can never be satisfied in a world that requires bombs and bases in space. The two things are contradictory. Socialism is not a Utopia, and when we achieve it that will not mean the end of all problems. But the problems will be of a minor nature compared with those that confront us today. A society that produces for use can never be placed in the position of deliberately curtailing production when people are in need of those things that are no longer to be produced.
Ray Guy