Friday, July 7, 2023

Letter: A pretty kettle of fish (2023)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard
This letter of complaint written by a very disgruntled electric kettle customer was sent to a consumer affairs television programme.
Dear Editors,

Four years ago I bought a Russell Hobbs electric kettle. I chose this one because this is a popular brand and I thought that it would be reliable and give me years of good service. It came with a 2-year guarantee, so now that it is 4 years old the company that manufactured it is not under any obligation to replace it for me.

The fault is quite trivial. It still boils the water but it has developed a leak. I looked inside the kettle and saw that there is a small nut that needs to be tightened, but it is behind the element so I can’t get at it to fix it. I took it to the registered appliance agent who told me that it cannot be fixed because the element cannot be removed. He advised me to throw it away and buy a new one. The kettle is made of stainless steel, a durable material which should last forever. If I bought a stainless steel cooking pot and boiled water in that, it would last forever, but of course, we all want a kettle because it uses less electricity to heat the water than having to put a pan on the cooker. I remember when electric kettles and electric jugs were made with parts that could be replaced, for example, elements could be replaced when they wore out.

My issue is not just, in this instance, with Russell Hobbs, but with the capitalist system which forces manufacturers of all appliances to make their goods so that they have a very short lifespan and have to be replaced every few years.

What a terrible waste of the Earth’s resources!

Shall we continue to fill up our rubbish tips with appliances that have been designed to break down after just a few years?

In a capitalist society manufacturers have to be seen to be making a profit. The only way they can do this is to make sure that we have to keep on buying their goods and replacing them on a regular basis. And to hell with using up all the Earth’s valuable resources and filling the rubbish tips with stuff that is non-biodegradable!

Until humankind changes the current exploitative system, of both workers and consumers, with one where goods are produced for use, not profit, I think that it should be illegal to manufacture anything that cannot be repaired.
Yours Faithfully,
Moggie Grayson

We have dealt comprehensively over the years with the deliberate act on the part of manufacturers to ensure that their particular commodities are made not to usefully last for a long time but to wear out in a relatively short space of time. Why are things not built or made to last? Because longevity is the enemy of profit – which is the raison d’ĂȘtre of capitalism.
‘In 1960 Vance Packard (certainly no socialist) wrote a book called The Waste Makers which caused a minor disturbance at its publication because it dealt with what he termed “planned obsolescence”. Packard showed how firms made shoddy goods, designed to wear out quickly so there would be a market for new ones. He wrote of radios, car parts and television sets which their designers and manufacturers knew could easily be made to last longer. There have even been instances of workers being fired because they took the time to do an excellent job, and so were not profitable’ (‘Waste and want — the insane logic of capitalism.’ World Socialist, April 1984).
Add computers, mobile phones, white goods, microwaves and electric kettles to the items that Vance Packard described.
‘There is no technical reason why solid and reliable electric and electronic appliances with easily changeable and compatible parts and able to incorporate innovations could not be produced. Industrial designers would surely love to do this but under capitalism it is the marketing department that calls the shots, as what is being produced are not simply products to be used, but commodities to be sold on a market with a view to profit’ (‘Organised Waste’, Socialist Standard, May 2011).
An update on Packard’s The Waste Makers was published in 2006: Made to break. Technology and Obsolescence in America by Giles Slade (reviewed in the Socialist Standard, October 2009). Slade wrote:
‘Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money’ (p. 153).
Think of the regular introduction into the market of smartphones. Older models work just as well but are eventually made unusable because the operating system becomes unable to support newer applications and support for the older models is discontinued. The same can be said of computers.

The reviewer made the point that the workers, who design and produce these items – and run capitalism on behalf of the elite class – are perfectly capable of making better quality goods and that:
‘This provoked a conflict with engineers, who knew they could make solid products that could last for years, but in the end their reluctance was overcome (they, too, are in the end only hired employees who have to do their employer’s bidding). It is also enormously wasteful as still useable products, and the material resources that went into making them, are simply thrown away’.
The solution to the problem of built-in obsolescence (and to many others) is straightforward. It’s the removal of the cost-saving, corner-cutting, ‘must keep profits as high as possible’ pressures which, by the economic laws of capitalism, all producers are subject too.

The only way to stop it? The replacement of capitalism by socialism where quality will extend to all areas of life. Why, with production directly for use, would we want to turn out stuff made not to last?
Dave Coggan

Cooking the Books: Was Marx really a reformist? (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

A controversy has broken out between two reformist groups about reforms. It started with an article by Dylan Riley in the New Left Review in April which criticised ‘neo-Kautskyites’ for advocating a green new deal; this, argued Riley, would come up against ‘the structural logic of capital’ and so wouldn’t work as intended ( Accepting the tag neo-Kautskyite, Seth Ackerman replied in Jacobin magazine to try to show that Marx himself believed that reforms could overcome the ‘structural logic of capital’ and so were worth struggling for (

Ackerman’s case was based on Marx’s support for the 1847 Factory Act which limited the working day for women and children to 10 hours. This had been opposed, not just by most factory owners but by tame economists one of whom notoriously argued that profits were made in the last hour of a day’s work and that cutting hours would ruin businesses. Marx refuted this by showing that every minute a worker worked was divided into paid and unpaid labour and so the Ten Hour Bill would not result in a total loss of profits (see section 3 of chapter 9 of volume I of Capital). It was also in the longer-term interest of the capitalist class as a whole, as over-working workers threatened their fitness as profit-producers of future generations of workers. In other words, it was not against the ‘structural logic of capital.’

Nevertheless, in his Inaugural Address to the founding congress of the International Working Mens’ Association in 1864 Marx did describe (which Ackerman quotes) the passing of the Ten Hour Bill as the first time that ‘the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class’.

Marx’s strategy at the time was to get a workers’ movement going, even just on a trade union basis, in the expectation that it would later develop into a conscious movement for socialism. So, this was a rhetorical flourish to show that working class struggle, even within capitalism, was not useless. In the event, Marx’s strategy didn’t work. Working class political parties did emerge but turned out to be more interested in obtaining reforms under capitalism than in campaigning for socialism.

In arguing that this meant ‘that Marx knew that the struggle for reforms was part of the struggle for socialism’, Ackerman reads too much into Marx’s rhetoric for the occasion and ignores his insistence in the same speech on the need for the workers to win control of political power (‘revolution’) before anything could be done to end their exploitation. Marx did support certain reforms that benefitted workers, and the Factory Acts did do this, but he never saw campaigns for them (‘reform’) as part of the struggle for socialism, only to try to get a better deal under capitalism.

Ackerman went on to argue that there is no ‘structural logic of capital’ that prevents reforms working but chose an easy interpretation of this logic to refute — that reforms will fail due to ‘the falling rate of profit’. That is not our position. Ours is that capitalism is a profit-driven system and that any reform that impinges on profit or profit-making won’t work as envisaged; the only reforms that are accepted are those that don’t go against this ‘structural logic’, including health services and universal education (which help create and maintain a reasonably educated and fit working class to operate modern industry).

The real argument on reforms is not about the reforms themselves but against reformism, the policy of advocating reforms in the belief that this will somehow help the struggle for socialism. It doesn’t and it can’t and it encourages illusions that divert from the struggle for socialism.

Lessons Learned (2023)

Book Review from the July 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Class of Their Own: Adventures in Tutoring the Super-Rich. By Matt Knott. Trapeze £9.99

After he had graduated from university, Matt Knott spent a few years tutoring children of extremely rich parents. His account of this is very amusing (such as ‘you wouldn’t believe what some of these people call their children’), but it also provides an insight into the lives of the wealthiest.

This is a world where PJs are private jets rather than pyjamas. Where people take a personal chef on holiday with them. Where people have a chalet in St Moritz and a holiday home in Kenya with a privately-owned beach that is only used at Christmas. Where it is acceptable to take a 45-minute helicopter ride in order to go to a restaurant in Rome. Where a family employ a driver (‘I had realised that the word “chauffeur” was terribly common’). Where living in North Kensington is nowhere near as prestigious as living in Kensington. The super-rich apparently have ‘a way of dressing casually which only served to highlight their wealth’. Yet their lives are often empty at their core.

Tutoring really meant being a ‘study buddy’ or a posh babysitter. A tutor is a status symbol, as everyone in a school class has one. Of one boy he writes, ‘How many people had he encountered in his life who were only there because his parents were paying them?’ Knott felt he had been paid to be his friend. In general the kids had no ‘sense of freedom’, having been led to believe that everything is a competition, though clearly they were rather freer than working-class children. One boy gets into the school his parents had chosen for him (but not because his father paid for a new sports centre). International demand – from Russia, for instance – has increased the competition for places at English public schools.

Knott also spent some time volunteering to help state school pupils. He derived far more satisfaction from helping a Muslim girl get into Cambridge than from the mega-rich kids he was paid to teach.
Paul Bennett

Political instinct (2023)

From the July 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

When speaking of the role of instinct in humans, socialists tend to focus on the ‘adapted behaviour’ element which highlights our species flexibility and ability to learn relevant behaviour in a given natural or cultural context. Our long childhood gives the individual behavioural resources and social skills without which he or she could not flourish. Of course, as animals, we have many other instincts such as fight or flight, self-preservation, sexual desire, cooperation and the maternal bond etc and these are not always compatible with each other in certain circumstances. Socialists would like to add the need for meaningful and creative work to this list but for obvious political reasons little research (to my knowledge) has been done on this by biologists who, like other scientists, are restricted in their studies by the ideology that provides their funding.

The old nurture versus nature debate seems to have reached an uneasy truce but it would seem that the majority in society still prefer to believe in genetic determinism as an explanation for human behaviour – which merely serves as the latest incarnation of the ‘human nature’ ideology which readily embraces all of the negative aspects of humanity and none of the positive elements.

If we look closely at the cultural concept of instinct we can see that it excludes learnt behaviour. In our admiration for a sports person we might say that their talent is innate or instinctive which is felt to be somehow superior to those whose prowess is primarily the result of perfecting their craft through practice and the application of technique. Strangely many who suffer from ‘mental illnesses’ seem more content with a diagnosis of a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain rather than one that indicates childhood trauma or environmental and social degradation etc. Similarly, the debates concerning gender identity and sexual preference centre on whether gender and/or sexuality is determined by biology at birth or by childhood experiences.

There seems to be a desire to bypass complex sociological and psychological explanations for our behaviour in an attempt to get ‘back to nature’ which is felt to be more authentic and free of intellectual convolution. It’s hard to know if this desire is a result of the use of Ockham’s razor or just plain old anti-intellectualism. There is no denying that endless psychotherapy is a money cow but then so are the drugs produced by big pharma which claim to be remedies for medicalised emotional distress.

There are some who still believe in the concept of evil but socialists do not recognise this as a force in the world. People may be described as evil but this does not tell us why they behave in a way that qualifies them for this distinction. We would look to psychological explanations for such criminality – but then, of course, we run into the contradictions created by criminal law where the killing of individuals for money or jealousy etc. is considered to be murder but dropping bombs on innocent people during wartime is not.

It would seem that, given the right circumstances, many of us can compromise our moral values and behave in ways we would not think possible during our ‘normal’ everyday lives. Where does this overriding power for destruction come from? Some psychologists have theorized that usually dormant instincts are at the heart of this terrible behaviour that we see played out in recent history time and again. We might be able to explain wars in terms of the paranoia and greed of ruling classes but why can millions of ordinary people be seemingly so willing to murder each other at the caprice of such parasites?

The fabric of culture and morality sometimes seems to be a very thin veneer unable to restrain the hatred provoked by propaganda. Some have suggested that this is because of some innate and dormant instinct within humanity that is accumulated because capitalism is unable to provide the basic human need for meaningful work, political equality and social justice. It is reported that many young men happily went off to the First World War because it liberated them from a life of repetitive and meaningless toil. And if you give people hate figures to blame for their unhappiness (the Kaiser or Putin for example) you have a recipe for the mass murder called war.

All of us are initially dumbfounded when confronted by the evidence of the Holocaust; the City of Death called Auschwitz is a continual reminder of what can happen when the forces of hatred, sadism and genocidal madness are unleashed. Political explanations alone are inadequate in the face of such crimes. As soon as we turn from the rational consideration of politics and turn it into an ideological confrontation of faiths we begin to make room for the irrational which, if not checked, can become a full conflagration of madness. Many historians begin their analysis of Nazi Germany by saying how surprising it was that such a cultured and progressive country like Germany could plunge itself into an abyss of cruelty and destruction without considering that it might have been the very capitalist culture that they so admire which provided a fertile context for the growth of death cults like the Nazis.

No historian has given a comprehensive explanation of why the Holocaust happened and we simply don’t know if it was partly, or even mainly, the result of unleashing dormant self-destructive instincts. Human instinctual behaviour is a long way from being thoroughly understood. But what we do know was wonderfully articulated by Vanessa Redgrave in her role as Fania Fenelon in the film Playing for Time when one of her fellow inmates at the death camp condemns all the Nazi guards as ‘monsters’ to which Fenelon replies calmly and sorrowfully: ‘no, they are human beings just like us – that’s the problem’.

Editorial: A Challenge to 
Trade Unions (1959)

Editorial from the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ranking with football, cricket, and racing, one of the British national pastimes is baiting the trade unions. Along with editors, journalists, and angry writers of letters to the Press, it is played by comedians, parsons, radio and T.V.. commentators and politicians, and is always good for a laugh or a sneer. It is an easy game to play because, to an outsider, trade union behaviour often looks anti-social or ridiculous and trade union replies, when not suppressed, are frequently ineffective. The attacks often get a sympathetic hearing among workers not in unions and even, on occasions, among other trade unionists.

It does indeed look absurd that rival unions should strike over the question which union should control the boring of holes or the handling of a chalked string to mark out work. And trade unions appear stupid and reactionary when they resist the employment of women or foreign workers or when coal miners call on the Government to prevent the use of oil as fuel, and railwaymen demand restrictions on road transport.

Members of Unions resent being criticised and complain that their side of the case rarely gets a fair presentation. They say that from the standpoint of the workers concerned, their actions are logical and necessary.

What is this necessity? It flows from the purpose for which trade unions are formed. A trade union is not formed to help the employers’ customers or the workers in general but to serve the interest of its own members in their own particular job. Miners, railwaymen, printers and others are trying to get as high a wage as they can and are trying to keep their jobs. If in so doing they inflict incidental hardship on other workers or find themselves advocating restrictions on the growth of new industries that compete with the one they live by, that, they say is forced on them, and anyway this is how everyone else behaves in our competitive society.

From some loftier viewpoint of human ethics the trade union attitude may appear selfish and futile but the general body of critics are not at all in a position to throw stones, for they are all of them defenders of that social system which is itself a crazy jungle of contradictions. Nothing that trade union members do in trying to defend their immediate interests can equal the selfish policies of governments and employers about the problems of production and employment. What could be more anti-social than the accepted principle of our world that if the workers in a particular industry produce more than can be sold at a profit, they should be specially penalised by being thrown out of work? And on top of that, to have their intelligence insulted by being told, as the Manchester Guardian (28. 5.59) tells them, that “Nobody wants” the coal, when of course there are millions of people who “want” the coal but cannot afford to buy it.

Trade unionists have long been aware that to go on separately fighting their battles over their own wages and jobs is not enough: hence the formation of the T.U.C. and the backing they give to the Labour Party; and the thousands of resolutions, mostly pious, proposed at trade union conferences on everything from H bombs to the payment of wages by cheque. But these activities, too, have left untouched the problem that the worker's life is an endless struggle to keep himself from being submerged by forces which he cannot control by the means he uses.

We too are critics, though with real justification, for we are neither hostile nor two-faced in our attitude to trade unions. We accept that they are a necessary weapon for the workers’ self defence under capitalism. Our criticism is on a different footing.

We ask trade unionists (and all workers) to realise the limited usefulness of going on indefinitely fighting the effects of capitalism. We ask them to accept that the whole basis of capitalism needs to be challenged and that this challenge must come from the working class—not from separate groups of trade unionists organised merely to defend their group interest, but from a working class which recognises the common interest of all workers in all countries. First their common interest in opposing employers and governments everywhere, and more importantly their common interest in getting rid of capitalism and establishing Socialism.

There is no future in merely struggling over wages and jobs, and no future in electing a Labour Government to perpetuate under different labels the same class-divided system of society.

But there is a future in seeking the abolition of capitalism and its wages system. The social arrangement by which one class (with the backing of governments) owns the factories and plants and means of transport and employs the working class for wages, is not something pre-ordained for all time. It is a phase in the development of human society and one for which there is no longer any need or justification. Trade-unionists, separately or together, and with or without a Labour Government, cannot make this arrangement function in their interest as workers, as many trade-unionists are already learning through frustrating experience. It is for those who are becoming aware of this to accept the further responsibility of thinking about the case the Socialist Party puts before them. This is the only fruitful line of advance.

Socialism or Social Catholicism (1959)

Party News from the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Debate between SPGB and Roman Catholic Church

It is an extraordinary event for a representative of the Roman Catholic Church to debate in public with a Socialist. On Sunday, 10th May, however, Father Bernard Rickett, headmaster of the West Bridgeford Roman Catholic School, Notts, received the Bishop’s permission to do so. Representing the Catholic attitude he debated the subject, "Socialism or Social Catholicism?” with the Socialist Party’s speaker, R. Coster. The debate was attended by an audience of 78 on a sweltering afternoon at the Co-op. Educational Centre, Nottingham.

R. Coster

Opening the debate for the Socialist Party, R. Coster defined its scope in terms of a Catholic writer’s phrase “ human life and happiness,” and said at once it was impossible to consider the question unless one dealt with the great problems which stood in the way of life and happiness for the great majority of humanity. War and its terrible weapons; insecurity and fear, and the recurrence of economic crises; poverty and its consequences in bad housing, a great deal of disease, crime and unhappiness; the overwhelming lack of satisfaction of people in the present-day world that produced appalling figures for mental and nervous disorders: these were the impediments to human life and happiness, and these were what had to be dealt with.

The Socialist case was that all these problems were consequences of the Capitalist organization of society. Capitalism was founded on the ownership of the means of living by a class; it meant that all productive activity was carried on solely for the motive of sale at a profit, that this commercial motivation dominated all relationships in society. It meant also that the non-owning class, the great majority, must be exploited and always more or less poor; and that the interests of these two classes were therefore irreconcilably opposed.

But Capitalism meant as well the conflicts between rival capitalist groups which led inevitably to war. It meant that from time to time, unpredictably and uncontrollably, there were crises and all the suffering which depressions brought. Parties and governments, and philosophers and religious leaders too, had been powerless to prevent these things because Capitalism’s antagonistic relations arising from division of interests over property caused them. The Socialist case, therefore, was for the abolition of this system. What was wanted was a new basis for society— the ownership by everybody of all the means of living, so that poverty, conflict and all the other barriers to decent life and happiness could no longer exist.

Could Catholicism solve all, or any, of these problems? There was no point of contact between Catholicism and Socialism; the speaker pointed to Catholic reiterations that the two were antagonistic and that private property was a natural right. The Church stood not only for Capitalism, but for a Capitalism so authoritarian that its criticisms of the Russian dictatorship could largely be applied to itself. By its defence of Capitalism, the Church acquiesced in the system which was the source of the problems.

Catholics talked about improving workers’ conditions, but the living standards their Popes advocated were those of “frugal and well-behaved” workers; the rate of emigration from Ireland was no advertisement for Catholic society On the war question, Catholic authorities were as divided and helpless as any Capitalist politicians—some opposed to nuclear weapons, some ready to justify them. The remedies for crises and exploitation advocated were childish: classes could not harmonize even at Popes’ bidding, in a class-divided society, and the proposals to “lift barriers” on trade and production showed incomprehension of how Capitalism worked.

Social Catholicism had no case. The only case was for Socialism, which aimed at establishing conditions in which the problems could not arise and human life and happiness could flourish.

Father Rickett

Father Rickett, in his opening speech, said he was not an expert on economic and social matters; he must treat the questions raised as a theologian who had studied history. He expressed appreciation of the Socialist Party as the only organization professing Socialism which was logical in its arguments. The trouble with the Socialist case was that its logic, though impeccable, rested on a false premise. Its view of man's nature was incomplete and therefore incorrect. Man lived in society, but he had been created for a supernatural destiny, and the idea of Socialism was incompatible with this divine nature. Man did not live by bread alone—he had been created not for temporal but for eternal happiness, though that did not mean he had to be miserable in this world.

Man was a selfish brute, imperfect by nature, and no solution could be valid which ignored his original sin.

Catholic sociology started from the need for him to reform his own character, to curb his selfishness and be content with his station in life. Disease, work and suffering were the lot of the human race. Capitalism was largely beyond the control of the Church, which indeed was not concerned with temporal things except insofar as they related to man's salvation.

Nevertheless, Popes had strongly denounced the excesses of Capitalism and laid down for those living in it what were God's will and moral laws. Social living was the will of God. The reverse of the Class-struggle doctrine was true; capital and labour were complementary—each needed the other, and our higher standards of living today were due to large-scale enterprise and the brains and invested capital behind it. It was quite wrong to claim that the product should belong to the labourer. The Church tried to see that there was an equitable share, and laid down rules of justice for employers and employees. The employer had duties to his workmen, and the worker also must recognise moral laws in his behaviour towards the employer.

What must be sought was charity, in its sense of brotherly love and mutual support. The Catholic Church had advocated the formation of Guilds like those which existed in former times, and in these there would be not class conflict but class collaboration. Class hatred, and hatred of any kind, could never produce anything constructive.

R. Coster 

R. Coster, in reply, summarised Father Rickett's argument as that, first, man must consider his life in relation to a life hereafter, and second, that man was innately bad, and that these two conditions put the Socialist case out of court

He submitted that the argument was, in fact, complete irrelevant to the matter under discussion. We were talking about human life and happiness, and it was useless to make the supernatural a basis for argument to people who were not aware of it. The proposal that human society was divinely instituted was superfluous and meaningless; human society was a fact—man organized socially for survival, and had he not done so there would have been no man. '

Were all the things said of man's “brutal, selfish” nature true? Nothing of the kind was known historically of human nature. The only thing known was that human nature continually altered. So did valuations of it: what was brutal and selfish in one age was heroic in another, and the Catholic Church itself had undergone this kind of societal conditioning.

Did the Church want a better world? The speaker read from a Papal Encyclical which said the world could not be better, that claims to the contrary were “lying promises.” But what were the effects of the Church's laying down laws of social justice? One Encyclical had stated the duties of employers towards their employees, and Catholic employers had conspired to prevent their workpeople learning what was said in it. And this in fact underlined what Socialists said—that a class must obey, not its religious ideals, but its interests as a class.

Socialists agreed that men did not live by bread alone. The quality of living was what made happiness. But first, man's material needs must be satisfied. The conditions must be created in which man could know the enjoyment of living; that was the aim of Socialism.

Father Rickett

Father Rickett, replying, spoke of the tyranny which Socialism would impose. It meant that we should lose our freedom. No one could understand human nature unless he contemplated the Crucifixion; it was an aberration of mind to put it aside. Society without God was an unrealizable Utopia. There could be and there was happiness in our world: nothing was more lovely to behold than a little Catholic home with its many children.

It was not mere egalitarian distribution that mattered. The Church wanted to see men make the best of the existing order, and within that order better distribution had been obtained. The Church had encouraged workers to organize in trade unions and stand up to Capital. On the question of the great problems, obviously insecurity and injustice were parts of the natural order. War was hateful and the Church would never support it—but it must be realized that some things were worse than war.

What had been said about Catholic employers was true, but they would suffer in eternity for it; their action was an instance of original sin. The Church's mission was to see that life as it was organized here below was not incompatible with the destiny of man. Nowhere had working people a better friend than the Catholic Church.

Father Rickett 

After a short period in which questions were asked and contributions to discussion made by members of the audience. Father Rickett made his summing-up speech. He said that the Catholic Church was much misunderstood by people; one either loved it or hated it. The idea of the classless society was unreal. It had never been depicted, and could only be achieved if we were all angels. Marx's arguments left much unexplained : heaven help us, the speaker said, if the right of property were not safeguarded. This right was precious to all of us in our daily lives, in our homes and in preserving our possessions. It protected the small man trying to advance his business or his career. Capitalism would pass away and some other social order replace it, but the Church would remain.

R. Coster 

R. Coster, concluding for the Socialist Party, said that Father Rickett had completely evaded the issue of the debate.

The questions put had not been answered. It was claimed that the Catholic Church stood aside from politics; in fact, the Church’s record showed a great deal of political activity not advantageous to working people. To say that Socialism would take away freedom was untrue and, for the Church, unfortunate; the Concordat between Spain and the Church, for example, had stripped the Spanish worker of every kind of freedom. As for happiness, the “lovely” Catholic home was frequently a squalid, overcrowded place. As for war being hateful, in this century Catholic authorities had repeatedly advocated the suppression of heresies by violence.

The whole conception of property as a right was mistaken. The capitalist class had known no right but might: by force and every other means they had secured their ownership, and established the legal and moral titles—the “ right ”—to it afterwards. At no point had Father Rickett shown why Socialism was “unrealizable.” All that was needed for its realization was understanding, and this was the enemy of Catholicism. Cardinal Manning had once said: “ I do not have to think for myself. The Pope does my thinking for me." But Socialism had everything to offer of human life and happiness, and to think for oneself was to hold the key to it.
Freddie James

Blogger's Note:
As mentioned previously on the blog, 'R. Coster' was the pen-name/party-name of Robert Barltrop during his first period of membership of the SPGB. When Barltrop rejoined the SPGB in the 1970s, he opted to use his own name when writing and speaking for the Party.

Barltrop, in fact, briefly mentions this debate in The Monument — his unofficial history of the SPGB — when he states that Father Bernard Rickett was ". . .  the best of all the speakers I met in debate . . ."

Letter: How do Men Make History ? (1959)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

How do Men Make History ?

In his article entitled “An Essay on Historical Materialism” (May S.S.) E.W. tells us that genetically speaking man makes history. Now, if this be so, man must be held responsible for the history he makes, for we cannot logically compare man living in a society with a tree existing in a wood, meaning by that of course that the tree is not responsible for itself as a tree, whereas man is responsible for himself and his actions as a man. And although man did not consciously will himself into society and history, it is still nevertheless true that society and history could not operate independent of the will of man.

However, according to Karl Marx, this is not so, for he claimed that history is governed by laws which operate independent of the will of man. And this view of his contradicts the view of men being able to make their own history. For if history is governed by inexorable laws, man cannot will these laws out of existence and create new ones, seeing that these laws operate independent of will. But if we accepted this view we would need to believe that history willed man, instead of history being willed by man. It is true, of course, that the individual born into capitalist society did not will capitalism, but nevertheless capitalism does not operate independent of men's wills. Marx's theory of history is therefore wrong, and, in fact, a contradiction in terms, seeing that all human history is the outcome of what men willed, and not of any mysterious laws operating independent of will.

Capitalistic exploitation of the working class does not operate independent of the wills of the capitalists, but rather, on the contrary, because they consciously will to exploit the working class.

Marx thought that he discovered the key to history, but had he lived long enough he would have found out that there is no key to history at all. And in regard to the will of individuals which he did not take into consideration, he would have found out that they have not only the power to create history, but have even the power to destroy the world.
R. Smith, 

The writer asserts, without evidence, that Marx believed history to be an impersonal force, operating independent of men's wills. Actually, Marx said, all historical change is brought about by men’s ideas. They are not, however, just the outcome of purely mental processes but responses to a concrete social situation arising from urgent class needs and the task of actualising them. All major changes he shows are periods of intense theoretical and intellectual activity. The battle of material interests is also the battle of ideas. “History,” says Marx, “ is not something apart from men, it is the activity of man in pursuit of his ends." This makes nonsense of the writer's remarks.

The writer vaguely refers to history being willed by individuals. Historically men have willed all sorts of things but what men have striven for and what has actually transpired has so often shown great discrepancies. In social development there are no ends not willed by men but these ends are not realised merely because men willed them. Even in the contemporary situation men have sought perpetual prosperity, eternal peace, harmony between all men, etc. It is not the will that has been lacking but the conditions essential for their fulfilment.

It is true that capitalists have the power to exploit workers or, to use the writer's curious phrase, consciously will exploitation. But class ownership backed by the State power are its indispensable pre-requisites. Only when these conditions are fulfilled can the will to exploit become effective. Again the absence of certain conditions made Socialism impossible 500 years ago. Today the consequences of capitalist production not only explain why the need for Socialism arises but why the presence of certain objective conditions make it possible to will its effective realisation. What is willed must then be compatible with a discovered situation which is not willed but accepted. When it is willed must be dependent on the objective possibilities in the situation. Only in this light does the action of men become intelligible, and why the ideas of some men and groups of men have failed and others succeeded.

The writer says history has no key. In that case he himself cannot talk meanfully about it. Where facts and events are not known, where nothing is known, then we have blind determinism, where there is no knowledge of facts and processes there is no freedom. Genuine freedom like will is not something arbitrary or uncontrolled, but based on an appraisal of the objective possibilities in a given situation. Only when what is necessary is known can effective action be taken. When men do not grasp the necessities of a situation, effective action loses its freedom. It was no other than Marx and Engels who tirelessly expounded this to the working class. This is the key to Marx’s conception of social purpose. 
Ted Wilmott

The Opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway (1959)

From the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

On April 25th last, the Canadian Government icebreaker D'Iberville moved into the locks opposite Montreal. Behind her were scores of other craft, decorated with bunting; helicopters were buzzing overhead and on the shores were hundreds of people who had got up early to watch the start of her voyage. For this was not only the end of the ice-bound winter season for Montreal; it was also the first journey into the recently completed St. Lawrence Seaway.

At the formal opening ceremony last month, nobody wanted to mention the embarassing fact that, but for the opposition of the railroad interests in the U.S.A., the Seaway would have been built long before now. These interests, with the Canadian East Coast Ports of St. John and Halifax, feared the competition which the Seaway would offer, with its cheap transport from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. Since the 1920’s, various Canadian Governments have wanted to go ahead with the project, but could not persuade the United States to co-operate. Finally, in 1951, the Canadians declared their intention of building the Seaway on their own. This forced the hand of the United States railway lobby, who did not want the Seaway—if it had to be built—to be completely beyond the influence of Washington. Even so, they insisted that tolls should be imposed on all craft using it; something the Canadian Government, which is traditionally opposed to canal tolls, found hard to swallow. Work started in 1954.

The Seaway is designed eventually to overcome the 602 feet difference in water level between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes. Most of this is concentrated between Lake Erie and Montreal; here we have some famous rapids and falls, the most spectacular of them at Niagara. These rapids have been an obstacle since the earliest days of exploration. In 1536, Jacques Cartier (who is credited with the discovery of the St.Lawrence River) was checked by the Lachine Rapids and in 1603 Samuel De Champlain was also held up near the same point. In the 18th century a one-foot canal was dug which allowed the small trading canoes to by-pass the rapids. Over the years this was deepened until in 1821 there was five feet of water available. Towards the end of the 19th century locks were built and the canals further deepened so that vessels lying 14 feet into the water could pass.

This system stayed until work was started on the Seaway, which is a series of 27 feet deep locks and canals from Lachine to Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Most of the merchant ships afloat can use it, being lifted more than 200 feet above sea level in the process. In addition, the Seaway Authority's powers extend to the Welland Ship Canal, which connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and by-passes the Niagara Falls. Since 1932, the Welland Canal has been at least 25 feet deep; now it has been dredged to 27 feet. As a result, ships of up to 8,000 tons can sail from the Atlantic to Lake Erie—and, when canals connecting the other Lakes have also been dredged to 27 feet, to the farthest end of Lake Superior. A number of power dams have also been built, which will supply millions of kilowatts of hydroelectric power. The total cost was about £405 million, split between the Canadian and United States Governments.

Steel and Wheat
The territory around the Great Lakes contains about 40 per cent, of the population of the United States and Canada and some of the best agricultural land and richest industry in the whole of North America. The optimists reckon on about 40 million tons of cargo a year coming from these areas through the Seaway to the Atlantic. There is evidence that the Seaway was primarily intended as an economic stimulant and not as an aid to shipping, for only one third of the total cost was spent on navigational aids, the remainder going on the hydro-electric schemes. Indeed, the Seaway should do a lot to revive the Steel industry of the Middle West, whose resources of iron ore from the nearby Mesabi Range were almost exhausted during the war. Plans were being laid to move the steel mills to the east coast, within easy reach of ore from Venezuela and the recently opened fields in Labrador. Now the ore will travel conveniently and cheaply from Labrador through the Seaway—and the Steel works should stay put. According to The Economist of 25th April, it was the steel men’s support of the Seaway which made the U.S.A. Congress realise that they would also have to agree to it.

The Wheat trade will also be affected. Up to now, grain from Fort William and Port Arthur—(at the western end of Lake Superior)—has been shipped as far east as possible by vessels called “Lakers"—which, although they could sail freely over the lakes, were prevented by the shallow canals from moving past Lake Ontario. The grain was then loaded into smaller vessels to be taken to ports nearer the Atlantic and transferred to the oceangoing steamers. Now, the ’’Lakers” may sail direct to the Labrador port of Seven Islands to unload their grain, replacing it with iron ore for the return journey. Another possibility is that the grain may be shipped direct from Port Arthur and Fort William to Europe, sailing past Buffalo, Montreal and other ports which have prospered on the traffic. The Canadian Wheat Board expects that this will reduce the cost of freight by about 5 cents a bushel; in an effort to keep the grain trade, the ports have started a programme of capital investment. Montreal alone is to spend nearly £10 million on its grain elevator system, £6 million on wharves and £1¾ million on transit sheds.

Railways and Steamships
The Canadian railway system was in part developed on the assumption that ocean going ships would never get any farther up the St. Lawrence than Montreal. As a result, an intricate railway network now links the St. Lawrence and east coast ports with the interior. Rail freight charges are high and, to capture some of the traffic, the Fjell-Oranje Line in 1932 opened a regular service of small steamers direct from Europe to such ports as Toronto and Cleveland. This line has no interest in any inland freight system in Canada, and so could concentrate on a cheap steamship service. But organisations like the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, which has large investments in both steamships and railways, could hardly be expected to promote the cheaper steamship service to the Lakes at the expense of its railroads. Development of the direct Great Lakes service was therefore neglected, whilst the railways and the east coast ports also strenuously opposed the even greater threat of the Seaway.

After the second world war however, more shipping companies began services from Europe to the Great Lakes and in 1956 the two great transatlantic companies— Cunard and Canadian Pacific—had to open their own service, with boats on charter from a German company. Now nearly 30 lines offer a regular service and without enough cargo to fill their holds, they are in fierce competition. The Seaway has sharpened the struggle; new steamers are being specially built and a freight war has broken out between the combine (they call it a “Conference”)—which includes companies like Cunard, Canadian Pacific and Furness Withy—and the rest. The Canadian and .United States railway companies have joined this war and have forecast all round reductions in freight rates. The governments may also step in with some subsidies.

Uncertain Outlook
The future, as usual, is uncertain. There is considerable congestion at some points of the Seaway, particularly the Welland Canal, which now takes nearly twice as long to navigate as it did 20 years ago. Again, the St. Lawrence River is closed by ice for about 5 months of the year — ice which can form so quickly that sometimes ocean-going ships are trapped upstream. The Seaway means that the shipping companies must maintain an organisation at the Atlantic ports for the winter and one at the Great Lakes for the Summer. Many of them fear that this will cost more than anything they might save by using the Seaway. For several years they may have to absorb considerable losses and possibly reduce their services.

If there is a general cargo boom and if the railroad and steamship companies can sort out their differences and agree on an attractive combined rate, the Seaway will certainly prosper. These are big “ifs”; the whole thing was conceived, obstructed and finally built in a tug-of-war between interests wanting to realise a profit on their investments. In this crazy world, that is the measure by which the St. Lawrence Seaway will be judged.

Human Needs (1959)

From the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The question is often asked, “What would life be like under Socialism?'' If we can't say precisely what it will be be like, we can at least say what it will not be like. We can say it will be production for use, which means there will be no buying and selling and consequently no high pressure advertising, no costly and frenzied attempts to get people to buy this or that. It won’t be a veneer society covering the sham and the shoddy. Only the best will be good enough in Socialist production.

Before people can pursue any cultural activities their basic needs, food, clothing and shelter, must be met. Different societies have different needs depending on the level they have reached. Thus, Feudalism, based upon agriculture and individual handicraft, meant that cars television, jet planes, etc., were not only impossible, but unthinkable. These things presuppose all the scientific and technical development necessary to their production. The development of Capitalism brings with it new techniques and new methods of production that generate new needs. Mass production demands mass sales. Large-scale industry, for example, needs large-scale transport for its distribution and finds its logical extension in jet planes. Mass entertainment, from the music hall to the cinema and radio, finds its extension in television.

This may appear as though techniques were made to measure or as if some ready-made, overall, technology were just waiting to be taken off the scientific clothes' peg. It is not quite as mechanical as this. What we can say is that there is a never-ending cycle of discovery and investigation. New discoveries give rise to new fields of investigation that require specialisation and new techniques. And, like oil in the earth, they are just waiting to be tapped.

The historical conditions that gave rise to commodity production, the production of things for sale and profit, produced also the necessary new techniques. Large-scale, power-motivated industry grew up, based on mass production and from this flowed the mass advertising and the constant pressure to buy, buy, hammered into us with unchanging regularity. One could say that in capitalist society, nothing is bought, everything is sold.

Our needs are largely conditioned by the kind of society into which we are born. We satisfy our needs by buying things or services. To get the money, the majority of us, as wage workers, have to sell our energy and skill to someone prepared to make use of them. Wages approximate to what is required to keep the worker to a standard of working efficiency. Since profit is the motive of the Capitalist, he pays the worker less than the value of his product. Profit is unpaid labour, the difference between what the worker receives in his wage packet and the value of what he has produced. The Capitalist must turn into money this unpaid labour or profit on the market, hence the enormous growth of advertising and selling agencies. In America, the country of capitalism par excellence, advertising has reached a turnover involving 9,000 million dollars and we are told by statisticians that if this trend continues, by 1965 the figure will reach 15,000 million, barring a slump.

The waste that production for sale and profit engenders is immeasurable. Socialism, that is production for use, means that only the best will prevail. The gradations of quality to suit your pocket will go and along with the cheap-jack will go the sham, the shoddy, the thief and the spiv. Restrictive practices, so prevalent today, will disappear and resources will be used to the full.

Production factors can greatly influence our needs today. A new commodity plus an intense advertising campaign creates new needs. It is hard to believe that before the war we managed quite well without nylon and other manmade fibres. Snob values and the “keeping lip with the Joneses" are exploited by the advertising experts whose job it is to manipulate and play on the weaknesses of potential consumers.
The most prevalent aspiration in this society is the acquisition of money, for money gives one a social power. Without it you are a failure; with it a success. Hence the striving to climb that slippery ladder, to reach the top, at all costs, to be able to surround oneself with all the things that will earn the approbation of one's fellow men. These are the kind of values that obtain today. Relationships between people revolve around this factor. The personality becomes identified by and through the accumulation of things and not through the exercise of one's human capacities. Full development is repressed and stultified by the property society we live in.

Let us look at some of its effects. Over 40 per cent, of lying-in patients in hospitals are mental cases. The soul-destroying repetitive processes that most workers do because it is cheaper to produce in that way, completely separate them from joy in their labour. The feeling that they can be sacked only adds to the frustration and insecurity of living. Workers do not have a job. They have the loan of a job which can be taken from them whenever their employer decides to do so. The threat of war and mass annihilation, due to the same basic cause, Capitalism, hangs over us like Damocles' sword. The irritations, mistrust, guardedness and jungle morality of this society all serve to alienate the sociability of people. We know that once the property basis of society is ended and production is for use, then people will act in a harmonious and sociable way.

Production, when it is for use and not for profit, will depend solely on the amount of people available and the natural resources to work on. All the wasted and useless labour that we have today will be usefully employed under Socialism. Men in the armed forces, policemen, people engaged in accounting, collecting and doling out money, insurance, banking and the hundred and one other useless tasks so necessary to capitalism will enter into production. Potentially we can produce an abundance. It simply becomes a matter of organisation. We know that under Socialism people will not seek to acquire things which today carry with them status and prestige value. Those compensating factors will no longer fill a need and the emphasis in people's lives will at last be on the quality of living rather than the quantity of possessions.
J.C. Gormley

Old Age Pensions (1959)

From the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all familiar with music-hall melodies which conjure up visions of a best of all possible worlds, where the capricious weather is the only cause for complaint. Certainly, a nice sunny day under the palms of say, the Bahamas, sipping iced drinks and carelessly tossing filthy lucre around to fawning waiters, hoteliers and the like is guaranteed to make life tolerable; if at times a bore.

However, the gay lines of the song are themselves a reflection of their gloomy opposite—the smog-ridden back streets of Britain's industrial areas and the dull lives of the propertyless wage slaves who from cradle to grave, inhabit them. Who rise by their alarm clocks, spend their days producing surplus value and look forward, at the end, to scraping along on an old age pension. The question is—should we aim to abolish a social system that breeds such contrasts or should we tinker at reforming it?

Certainly, the reform-mongers have had a good innings—there has been no dearth of “improvers of the condition of the working class" since Marx tabulated them. Whether Tory, Liberal, Labour of Communist Parties, they have all had a go at “improving" the wages system, until those who work for wages may wonder why there is anything left to be improved.

Further, whilst the labour and inventive genius of the working class has showered luxury after luxury on their employers, their own lives are marked by monotonous insecurity, with the ultimate goal of a weekly pension of about 50s. Cold comfort for them to read boastful headlines of progress in aeronautics and so on, whilst life in their own orbit involves wintering, not on Palm Beach or the shores of the Mediterranean, but anchored to their obscure slum allies, shivering over oil stoves. Is this progress?

Pensioners are the forgotten men and women of capitalism, who are of no further use in the production of surplus value. Here is the real reason for pensions and pensioners, for the production of surplus value is the mainspring of capitalism, which enables those who by labour power to live in luxury and idleness.

Wistful Eyes
Certainly, our pensioners may view distant sunny lands in glorious technicolor—from a cinema seat whilst the damp, foggy air of the industrial areas awaits them at the end of the show. Only within the glossy pages of coloured cruise brochures may they wander with wistful eyes along gleaming promenade decks, dining saloons, lounges, ban and staterooms of the Queens of the Southern Seas. These enjoyments are for sale—at hundreds of pounds—and so are out of reach of Britain's sun-starved old age pensioners.

Such is the class nature of progress in a class divided society; always the greatest benefits of improvement in transport and so on accrue to the ruling class. Until the workers decide to end this monopoly of the good things of life, participation on their part will be limited to a mere shadow of the real thing.

During last winter, whilst old age pensioners and the like tried to combat the cold with stoves run on paraffin oil at 2s. per gallon instead of coal at 9s. per bag, Sir Winston Churchill flew to sunny Morocco in a 70-seater plane with only 17 passengers. Here was room for 50 of Britain's sun-starved pensioners. After all, are they not part of Britain's one big happy family which the politicians are fond of orating about? Or could it be that the wealthy shipping potentate Aristotle Onassis, whose guest Churchill was, preferred the empty seats to the pensioners' company?

No Pensions
The answer is that there can be no participation in this type of progress for the great mass of humanity, so long as they are shackled to the wages system. Wages, which generally are only just sufficient to maintain and reproduce the worker, are the chain which pegs him down to his native heath. The Socialist Standard of October 1956 pointed out that “only 8 per cent. of the population of Britain went abroad for holidays in 1955 and that 77 per cent, have never been outside Britain."

As long as the worker has abilities to sell and can produce surplus value he is an asset to the capitalist class, but once the golden juice of labour power dries up with his advancing years, his days of exploitation are numbered. Finally, he is retired and becomes a liability to those who, having exploited him during the best years of his life grant him a tiny pension to continue his existence, if he can.

Under Socialism, of course, there will be no pensions, even large ones, because once humanity is freed from the necessity of selling their energies and social ownership of the means of life is a reality, every human being, regardless of age, will have free and welcome access to the good things of life. When their hair is turning greyer—by weight of years alone—their place in society will be one of dignity and respect in a free and harmonious community.
G. R. Russell.

The Politics of Hate (1959)

From the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger' Note:
A bit of context for this cartoon . . . especially as the language employed in the final panel is so jarring. In the printed edition of the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard, this cartoon — which may have been drawn by Alwyn Edgar — immediately followed the front page article, Race & Violence, which was about the recent 'race riots' in Notting Hill.

From the Branches (1959)

Party News from the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard


Two indoor meetings are being held at the Branch room at Davenport House during July. Details are given under the “ Meetings ” column.


Owing to members’ holidays, Ealing Branch will not meet on July 17th and 24th. The meetings of July 31st, August 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th will be held at The Royal Oak public house, Ealing Broadway (opp. Bentalls)). Thereafter, meetings will be resumed at the usual venue, Memorial Hall, Windsor Road, Ealing, W.5.


Bloomsbury Branch will not meet during August as Conway Hall closes for that month. After the meeting on July 16th the next meeting will be on September 3rd.

“Socialist Standard"

The Production Committee are endeavouring to meet the wishes of members by, they hope, improving the appearance of the Standard. Apart from our wish to make the S.S. the best possible means of spreading the Socialist message, there is the ever-pressing need to sell as many copies as possible. An encouraging idea is that from now on our order to the printers should increase every month. This requires help from every member in the Party. Why not start by doubling your quota of Standards per month, and make that extra effort to sell all you take?
Phyllis Howard