Wednesday, August 23, 2023

SPGB Sunday Evening Meetings. (1930)

 Party News from the September 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Socialist Searchlight: No More Class War (1930)

From the September 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

No More Class War
“During the last twenty-five years, he said, thousands of rich people had come to see that the host thing they could do in life was to share in the great task of improving conditions of the community. 
The time, he believed, was not far distant when rich and poor would co-operate in serving the community.”
No, it was not Mr. Churchill who said that, but Mr. George Lansbury, at Rotherham (“Daily Herald,” July 21st).

This First Commissioner of Works, and Christian Evangelist, visited Russia a few years ago, and in his book, “What I Saw in Russia,” grew lyrical over “the achievements of Russia,” compared with the miserable efforts of Capitalism at home.

Although the rich have been helping’ the poor so much here, there are faint rumours that for many years past the employers have been busy reducing wages and smashing strikes. The kind-hearted employers who are going to co-operate with the poor, are still very active in keeping a system going which produces poverty for the worker and profits for the idler. What better evidence do you want than Lans-bury’s speech, to prove how the Labour Party serve Capitalism? Don’t struggle, but love each other. Lansbury used to say at the Mission that only the love of Christ could save us, but now the rich have taken on Christ’s work. That is what has made Bow and Bromley such a paradise.

* * *

The Bankers’ Friends

Labour in office shows how it practices continuity in capitalist policy “The Times” complimented “Labour” on effecting’ such a close relation between finance and industry when they got the Banks to agree to rationalize the factories. The Bankers, with Labour’s approval, formed the National Industrial Development Co., Ltd. Montagu Norman, of the Bank of England ; Sir Guy Granet, Railway Director, and of Higginson & Co., World Financiers; Baron Schroeder, famous in the Ruhr Steel Combines, and of Schroeder’s, the New York Bankers; Peacock, of Baring Brothers; and Wagg, the Finance Merchant—these became the directors of the new concern to buy up and rationalize the profitable industries. Once Labour screamed about the Bankers’ power ! That was only when out of office. Now they have earned the affection of “finance” by encouraging Bankers’ control over production more than ever.

While “Labour” cried out that their schemes were being shelved because local bodies were sabotaging them, they appointed a Public Loans Board to advise what loans should be made to local authorities. They appointed the same board of Bankers the Conservatives had selected five years before. Then a few backbenchers objected to Lord Hunsdon being on it, because he said the miners should be starved into surrender in 1926. The Labour Government have drawn fulsome praise from the poisonous Newspaper Press by squashing their own members and getting Lord Hunsdon reappointed with Liberal and Tory support in Parliament.

Yet there are still workers who tell us that Labour is opposed to the Capitalists ! Let them learn from such practices as the above how well the Labour servants obey their masters. When the workers become Socialist, and control the Parliaments for Socialism the Labour politicians will be able to seek solace with their friends, the Bankers, and they can take the Mace with them to where people want entertainment, instead of a sane social system.

* * *

The Confessions of a Clyde "Red.
    “The only time in my life that I have allied myself with the enemies of the workers has been since I came to the House of Commons, and that is by the order of the Labour Government. Almost every time I go into the Division Lobby I join such tried and trusted friends of the Labour Party as Lloyd George, his daughter, Sir Herbert Samuel, etc. They are keeping the Labour Party in office on condition that the workers and the Labour Party programme are deserted.”
Thus writes the Labour M.P. for Shettleston (“Forward,” August 2nd). He was, however, the official Labour candidate, and stood for the official Labour Party Programme. He was attacked during the election by another Labourite, Mr. C. Diamond, who has been on three occasions official Labour candidate, and who stated that he has supported the Labour Party because it is not committed to Socialism.

The Party that the Member for Shettleston—McGovern—stands for, is not out for the working class. Read his own words: –
 “There is no danger of chasing away the Liberal votes, as they have all joined us at Westminster. The Labour Cabinet coddle them too much to drive them away, and are more concerned about them than about the working class.”
He became the official Labour Candidate—because it’s the best way to get elected. “Getting in” —that’s the game, even if it means going into the Lobby to vote against the programme he ran on.

The little conflict between the “wings” has now been settled at a joint meeting of the Labour Party and I.L.P., and the following terms were agreed upon: –
  1. That the I.L.P. accepts the Labour Party Annual Conference as the supreme authority of the organised political movement of the workers.
  2. That the I.L.P. wishes to remain in affiliation with the Labour Party. (Forward, Aug. 2.)
So, now Lloyd George, the I.L.P., and the Labour Party may continue their united front—in the same Lobby.

Blogger's Note:
The Confessions of A Clyde 'Red' had previously appeared on the blog as a separate piece. I'm guessing I cherry picked it at the time 'cos it was about John McGovern and because of the location of his parliamentary constituency.

Voice From The Back: South of the Border (2008)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

South of the Border

From old Frank Sinatra songs to Hollywood movies about Rio beaches, with beautiful young men and women the image is projected about the wonders of Brazil. The reality is less gorgeous. “A study by the government’s Institute for Applied Economic Research showed that the richest 10 percent of Brazilians hold 75.4 percent of the wealth. Thanks to a regressive tax system, they only lose 22.7 percent of their incomes to tax, compared with 32.8 percent for the poorest 10 percent of Brazilians. In Rio, only a handful of slums out of more than 600 in the city are in line for improvements under the federal program, leaving many feeling left out.” (Yahoo News, 8 July)

An Ill Divided Society

We often hear of the plight of workers in various parts of the world who try to survive on less than $1 a day but it is hardly of any consequence to most of the following group of rich parasites. “The combined wealth of the globe’s millionaires grew to nearly $41 trillion last year, an increase of 9 percent from a year before, Merrill Lynch & Co. and consulting firm Capgemini Group said Tuesday. That means their average wealth was more than $4 million, the highest it’s ever been. Home values were not included in asset totals.” (Yahoo News, 24 June)

Learning About Capitalism

Every child that is born has to be taught about the crazy system of ownership and poverty that is capitalism in order to survive in this dog eat dog society, but even supporters of this system with its insatiable greed for profits would surely draw the line at the following piece of “shrewd” business strategy. ” Thousands of children as young as 11 have been sent debit cards by Lloyds TSB without their parents’ consent. One 15-year-old reportedly used the card to buy cheap cigarettes, Viagra and fake adult identification on the internet.” (Times, 5 July)

The Mad House of Capitalism

He is reputed to be the richest man in the world so the recent downturn on the world’s stock exchanges has led to speculation that Warren Buffett may be ready to plunge into an increasingly bearish market. “During the great bear market of 1974, Warren Buffett was asked by a rather staid fellow how he felt. “Like an over-sexed guy in a whorehouse”, he replied. “Now is the time to invest and get rich.” (Observer, 6 July) Whether he in fact invests or not the richest man in the world, said to be worth $35 billion, certainly has a rich use of the vernacular. As Bob Dylan once sang “Money doesn’t talk – It swears!”

How Capitalism Operates

We are constantly amazed at the current ignorance about how capitalism operates. Chancellors that claim they can get rid of slumps and booms, prime ministers who believe that a series of reforms will solve social problems, but this piece of nonsense takes a bit of beating. “Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘Mortgage lenders have made billions from first time home buyers and Shelter believes it’s now the turn of those lenders to help them.’” (Metro, 10 July) What Mr Sampson does not seem to realise is that capitalists makes their fortunes from rent, interest and profit not from some benign urge to “help” borrowers! Perhaps it’s “now the turn” of Mr Sampson to learn a little bit about the basics of capitalist society.

Patriotism Goes Mega

Away back on the 7th April 1775 when Samuel Johnson wrote “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, he couldn’t have imagined how much modern capitalism would use patriotism to enslave the working class. “On the field before the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball plans to assemble the largest gathering of Hall of Fame players in baseball history. And as fans salute their heroes, the former players will join the crowd in saluting the American flag — one that is roughly 75 feet by 150 feet, as long as a 15-story building is tall, spread horizontally over the Yankee Stadium turf. That is a relatively small flag by big-event standards in American sports these days. But it will signal the latest can’t-miss blend of sports and patriotism, a combination increasingly presenting itself through gigantic American flags, unfurled by dozens or hundreds of people in an attempt to elicit a sense of awe and nationalism in the surrounding crowd.” (New York Times, 4 July)

Material World: Campaigners for humanitarian intervention: “useful idiots” of militarism (2008)

The Material World column from the August 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing new in governments claiming to be motivated by humanitarian concerns when they go to war. To take a couple of old examples: tsarist Russia supposedly fought the Ottoman Empire in order to rescue Armenians from massacre by the Turks, while British intervention following the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 was justified by lurid drawings of “Huns” skewering babies on their bayonets ( The enemy atrocities might be real, as in the first example, or imaginary, as in the second, but in both cases the claim of humanitarian motivation was fraudulent. Governments decided for or against war on the basis of (sometimes erroneous) calculations of economic and strategic interest.

That remains true today. Never, however, has it been more important for governments to win public support for wars by claiming humanitarian motives. As in the past, some of the “facts” underlying the claims are fabricated. Thus, Tony Blair repeatedly claimed that 400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves, although the number of corpses uncovered was only 5,000.

But again, the claims are false even when the facts are true. Often this is obvious because the atrocity occurred long before foreign governments expressed any outrage over it. Why bring the matter up just now? Britain and the US had no objection when Saddam used poison gas on Kurdish villages in 1988 because at that time he was their ally. The weeks preceding the dispatch of British troops to Afghanistan were marked by a media campaign against the oppression of women in that country, with even Cherie Blair roped in. The issue was then dropped as suddenly as it was raised.

A public movement for humanitarian intervention
What is new is the emergence, within the broader human rights movement, of a loosely organized network that campaigns for military intervention wherever that seems to be the only effective means of halting or preventing genocidal atrocities against some ethnic group. Currently, for example, there is an international campaign for intervention in Darfur (Sudan).

During my non-socialist period, I was involved for a while in one of the organizations that makes up this network: the Institute for the Study of Genocide (ISG). My research, publicized through the ISG, helped to bring the massacres of Bosnian Moslems by Serb militias to the attention of the US media and politicians – including, notably, Bill Clinton, who at that time was campaigning for president. Later Clinton did intervene militarily in Yugoslavia, though over Kosovo rather than Bosnia.

Unlike governments, anti-genocide activists like the ISG have quite genuine humanitarian motives. They recall how “the world sat by” and allowed the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust to proceed. (Though at war with Nazi Germany, the Allied command turned down pleas to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz.) They are determined to establish humanitarian considerations as an integral part of policy making, so that “we” will not let such terrible things happen again.

Any decent person will sympathize with this line of thought. But there is a problem with it. Let us shift our focus from the moral imperative of effective action to the political forces capable of such action. Who is “the world”? Who is “we”? The only “we” capable of intervening is governments with their armed forces. But governments do not exist for humanitarian purposes. They are therefore loathe to intervene for humanitarian reasons, and it is close to impossible to compel them to do so.

Pros and cons
From the point of view of governments, the existence of a public movement for humanitarian intervention has both pros and cons. It is irritating and embarrassing to have to face down emotional public demands to intervene in places where no important “national interests” are at stake – in Rwanda, for instance, or Darfur. On the other hand, when you are inclined to intervene anyway for other, more “important” reasons it is extremely convenient to have a public movement pressing for intervention. That makes it much easier to drum up public support for war, and at the same time you can enhance your democratic credentials by “responding to public opinion.”

In the case of Yugoslavia, the demand to intervene effectively over Bosnia was resisted, but the campaign in which I participated prepared the ground for intervention over Kosovo. The evidence now available suggests that in Kosovo, in contrast to Bosnia, there was never any real danger of genocide (as opposed to the usual ethnic cleansing). In Kosovo, however, and again in contrast to Bosnia, significant interests were at stake, such as a major oil pipeline and metal-mining complex (see April 2008 Socialist Standard).

Illusory success
It may appear to campaigners for humanitarian intervention that they have a certain limited success. They “win some and lose some.” But if we look more deeply into the real interests involved we see that their success is largely illusory. It is by no means clear that their efforts have the net effect of reducing the amount of suffering in the world. In fact, by supporting and helping to legitimize brutal and devastating wars they may well increase the total of suffering.

The epithet “useful idiots” (or “useful fools”) was used to pillory Western pacifists who supposedly served the interests of the Soviet Union, though without intending to do so and for the best of all possible motives. Jean Bricmont borrows the expression for a different purpose, calling campaigners for humanitarian intervention the “useful idiots” of Western militarism and imperialism (Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War, NY: Monthly Review Press, 2006). Again, this is not meant to cast any aspersions on their motives.

As socialists we would only question the stress on “Western.” In principle such people could equally well serve as useful idiots for non-Western (Russian, Chinese, Indian, etc.) militarism and imperialism, though in practice they are active mostly in Western countries.

Calls for humanitarian intervention only make sense in terms of a false conception of the nature and functions of government. They feed a delusion that obscures the reality of our capitalist world, thereby making it harder to overcome that reality.

Who Pays for Health Care? (2008)

From the August 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
This year is the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service. Workers like it, but capitalists don’t, at least not any more. Why?
That the NHS became old enough to claim its bus pass last month will be a source of pride to members of the Labour Party – something to hold in their hearts as the gloom gathers around their fading regency over Britain.  60 years of providing health care free at the point of use is something that socialists can acknowledge, albeit with qualification.  Likewise, the continued existence of such a service sticks in the craw of the purist ideologues of capital, and serves as a constant irritant to the rapacious demand of capitalism for profits.  That accounts for why the health service remains at the heart of the political battlefield.

For example, when the Daily Telegraph celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the end of food rationing in 2004 they used it as an excuse to have a pop at the health service.  After all, if rationing – which they claimed was, in effect, a National Food Service, was not needed, then why have a National Health Service? ( Socialists would, of course, argue the exact opposite – and that is what the Torygraph’s hacks were exactly afraid of, the threat of the good example.

So afraid, that they try to turn it into the bad example.  Following the most energetic proponents of capitalism, they maintain that state run services cannot be efficient.  This is a line that ultimately stems from the Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises, who argued that without markets in capital (i.e. productive goods) rational resource allocation could not be made.  His latter-day followers would argue that the NHS can only function because it can approximate the prices of its goods from general society; but, that in that approximation it still cannot achieve due efficiency.

Others follow the other Austrian economist Freidrich Hayek in asserting that without entrepreneurship, the managers of a state bureaucracy lack incentive and drive, and thus do not serve the customers (i.e. patients) as well they might.  These folk would also argue that information does not flow freely within the NHS, and cannot effectively do so, for much the same reasons.  They point to manipulation of statistics and fiddling to meet central government targets as proof of this.

It has been traditional to use waiting lists as proof of that inefficiency, and Labour has spent the last ten years desperately trying to prove those waiting lists can be eliminated.  These, though, only exist because the NHS is a government bureaucracy that aims to treat everyone – were it a market led system, those lists would become invisible, as those who couldn’t afford to pay would cease to present themselves, and the dreaded rationing would occur unseen.  Indeed, that was the situation at the foundation of the NHS, where the war had seen the state discover just how unhealthy the population was when they were shanghaied into battle.

Another favoured trick has been to compare, say, the number of expensive scanners in the United States to those in the UK.  Although the US does have higher numbers, much of that is driven by different medical priorities, and, more importantly, different donor priorities.  As much medicine in the US relies on charity (itself a sign that markets cannot provide the service required) their funding is subject to potlatching – spectacular donation one-upmanship in which big, shiny projects will be privileged over more mundane treatments.

Of course, the NHS has had serious funding/allocation problems. In its early days demand was much higher than anticipated, and so consequently it cost more. (Link.) Since the 1980’s successive governments have tried to rectify its perceived shortcomings through creating pseudo-markets.  The problem is, however, for the die-hard agents of capital, pseudo markets will never be good enough.

This can be seen from the more recent propaganda.  Following a Office of National Statistics report in April this year the Telegraph proclaimed “NHS gets more money but productivity falls”. They alleged that “billions of pounds of extra investment in the health service has led to a 10 per cent drop in productivity,”  because:
“Although more patients are being treated on the NHS with more operations being carried out, more drugs being prescribed and the population enjoying better health, the rise has failed to match the increase in investment, a report from the Office of National Statistics shows.”
That is, although all of these manifest improvements were occurring, the Telegraph spun it as a decline in productivity which meant that “unless NHS productivity can be improved the principle of a health service funded out of general taxation may become unaffordable, experts warn.”(Link)  All this because the ratio of money spent to the outputs achieved declined (or rather, the outputs did not rise as fast as the increased expenditure)

The cold, cold logic of capital: if the returns aren’t good enough, if the money could be more profitably spent elsewhere, then it should be so.  The actual concrete outcomes become a secondary consideration behind the magnitude of the capital involved.  Another recent government report indicates how this might weigh on the capitalist mind.  The report, the annual “Value added scoreboard” ( looks at company accounts in the UK and across Europe to show which firms have added the most value to the economy.  It defines value added as: Value Added = Sales less Costs of bought-in goods and services:
“Value Added can be calculated from a company’s accounts by adding together operating profit, employee costs, depreciation and amortisation/impairment charges.”
That is, it does not measure value as a ratio of total capital invested, but as a fraction of year on year expenditure.  For the government and for capitalists, it’s a measure of how well firms are meeting peoples’ desires (apparently).  For socialists, this is a very good thing to measure, since, after all, this shows pretty accurately how much workers are exploited for – all that value added is our unpaid labour being realised – something like £646 billion in the top 800 companies.  Of that, £3.5 billion is accounted for by “health care equipment and services.”  Given that the NHS costs an annual £89.7 billion it’s clear that were its services to be made commercially available, then the headline value added figure for the UK would rise, and health care as a sector would leap up in terms of the national league tables.

Capital with its incessant drive – accumulate, accumulate – looks upon all that capital, all those potential profits, all that money pouring into the NHS and dreams of taking it for itself, of taking out its state rival and bringing the riches and all that potential surplus value into its own cold avaricious arms.  It would also mean not having to pay the dreaded taxes that the government snatches.

Although socialists recognise the benefits the NHS brings to workers who otherwise would not have access to healthcare, they are far from the ardent uncritical supporters that the membership of the Labour Party tend to be.  They see that although the NHS suggests possibilities for how a service free at the point of use and based on needs could be organised, fundamentally, it is not free from the market system and a long way from being the fount of joy Labour supporters proclaim it to be.

Although the NHS has to simulate markets internally (much as many big companies do) it actually exists within a market economy.  It competes to buy drugs, materials and even staff.  When the Telegraph bewails that much of the money poured into the NHS over the last ten years went into wages and salaries, it is commiserating over its own basic principle: that people should try to enrich themselves and get the most for their skills and abilities that they can.  NHS workers are compelled by the threat or prospect of poverty to play the market game as best they can.

Likewise, it must buy hospitals and premises from commercial builders and landowners.  It has to pay the form of rent known as a patent to the drugs manufacturers. And it has to have the payroll clerks, the accountants, the procurement officers, the lawyers and the whole array of staff specifically to manage all of this market activity, adding greatly to its cost.

Further, technical innovation comes with a market drive.  As the BBC points out in a special report for the anniversary, “all the new machines and robots that are becoming available for health care cost a fortune, can the NHS afford to keep up with innovation?” ( As with any other industry, capitalism is constantly revolutionising the process of healthcare.  More and better results can be achieved with more and better machinery – that is with ever greater capital investment.  Personal healthcare has always been relatively labour intensive, and it would be politically inconvenient to try and rationalise staff costs the way that an ordinary capitalist firm would – with wage cuts and redundancies.

This interweaving with the market system also nullifies some of the wilder claims that the NHS is a massive benefit to the working class – many capitalist states manage to exist without such a system.  Health costs are, for the most part, not optional, you either need treatment or you don’t (though the poor are long adept at putting up with ailments it’s too dear for them to pay to relieve).  By hook or by crook, if the employers want to have a workforce fit to perform their role, it’s going to have to pay for health care.  This can either be done through wages directly, or as a workplace benefit or through the state.  If provided as a state or private benefit, it simply has the effect of lessening the upwards pressure of wages by workers who need to pay for their and their loved one’s treatment.  If it was paid directly through wages, employers would have to risk paying those sums to workers who might never need health treatment: i.e. they’d be paying them (in the employers’ eyes) too much.

Let’s be clear, this is an automatic effect of the wages system. The proponents of the NHS are sincere (for the most part) in believing that it brings a massive benefit to society.  Certainly, it helps the Labour Party by being a threatened cherished item to rally their supporters around and with which to beat the Tories.  The wages system, though, which will only return to the workers the price the market will bear for sustaining their ability to work can snatch with one hand what the state gives with another.  Our health and well being only matters so far as it enables employers to use us for profit, as can be seen in those parts of the world where surplus population is left to rot.

The health service, also fails to address that other feature of the market system: inequality.  The figures are quite starkly clear.  For example, in the London Borough of Camden – home to some of the most deprived parts of the country – the difference in life expectancy can be a decade.  A man living in Belsize ward can expect to live to be 80.2 years old, while less than a mile away in Kilburn the life expectancy is 69.9 years.(  Just a mile or two more away in Somers Town (the ward which includes Kings Cross station, and St. Pancras International – with the longest Champagne bar in the world) death rates are 35 percent higher than the national average.(Link.)

This is part of a worsening trend:
“During the period 1972-6, the gap in life expectancy between social classes I and V was 5.4 years for men and 4.8 years for women. By the time New Labour succeeded the Tories in government, these gaps had risen to 9.4 years and 6.3 years respectively.” (See tables 1 and 3 in: ‘Life expectancy by social class’, UK Government Statistics.  
 “Kill, kill, kill, killing the poor”, as the Dead Kennedy's sang.  It is clear that the effects of poverty, and the associated lifestyle are deleterious to health, and that simply having the services available of the NHS isn’t sufficient to stop the theft of years from the working and unemployed poor.
Pik Smeet