Friday, September 8, 2023

Letter: Rents: To Pay or Not To Pay? (1972)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like all other papers of what is known as the "left” you just now devote a good deal of attention to rents. In your February issue for instance there are two articles on the subject. In each of these you mention the 1915 rent controls. But you do not give the reason why the control was imposed in 1915. It was because in Glasgow and other towns in Scotland tenants not only refused to pay the increase but refused to pay any rent at all. As indeed some are doing in Northern Ireland to-day. The government in Westminster was terrified and in great haste passed the Rent Control Act making it illegal to demand increased rents. This of course was a great blow to landlords and they have by one means or another, with the assistance of all governments, been getting round it ever since as described in your first article “Why Rents Must Go Up”.

Unfortunately you have not learnt the lesson, if tenants of council or landlord living accommodation refuse to pay any rent at all or if those who are forced to borrow money to get a place to live in refuse to pay out rent charges no power can force them to do so if they stand united.

Having read your paper for many years I know your normal reply would be "What of it”, even if British workers do not pay capitalism will still exist and people in France, the USSR, China etc. etc. will still be paying rents. True enough but if the British worker can defeat the landlord and money lender in the matter of rents etc., it will not be long before others follow their example. After all you are not against the miners, you say, — “They should have the support of all other workers etc. etc.”

Let us see the SPGB taking up the fight for the workers on the rents issue and advocating "No rents or interest charges for lousy accommodation”.
Tom Braddock
East Preston.

The episode to which our correspondent refers was a consequence of housing shortage after the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war. House-building virtually ceased when the war began, and in the munitions-producing areas the shortage gave a special opportunity for profiteering in rents. In Glasgow, tenants in slum districts refused to pay increased rents and were supported by the militant Clyde workers. The outcry was a principal factor in causing the government to pass the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915.

It was, as Tom Braddock says, "a great blow to landlords”; this was one of the themes of our article Why Must the Rent Go Up? However, he is assuming that a blow against landlords is a blow against capitalism. In fact, a reduction in so large an item in working-class living costs is extremely welcome to the other sections of the capitalist class. Rent control has remained in force for fifty-seven years because it has helped keep wages down; a free market in rented housing would inevitably mean universal demands for higher wages. The present government and its predecessors have been as frightened of this as Braddock says they were of agitation in 1915, and have made concessions to landlords only because the alternative — already happening — was having large numbers of controlled houses deteriorating into slums.

As for the suggestion that the working class should now refuse altogether to pay rent or mortgage interest, Braddock does not tell us what would be achieved by this. He does not imagine, surely, that every household would then find itself better off by that amount every week? If he does, his reading of the Socialist Standard for many years cannot have been attentive.
Editorial Committee.

This Capitalist World (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

How to feed the hungry

Something like 90,000 tons of US chemical-warfare agents have now been employed in the Vietnam war. Seven thousand tons have been CS gas, the remainder herbicides. With the latter, crop cultivations sufficient to feed two million people for a year have been destroyed, and 20,000 square kilometres of forest laid waste.
(New Scientist, 22 June 1972).

Abolishing plenty amidst poverty

Up to two million laying hens may have to be slaughtered in an attempt to solve the present surplus of eggs on the British market.

The National Farmers’ Union has put a plan to the Eggs Authority suggesting that a special slaughter subsidy should be paid to poultry farmers who want to cut down on their hens because they are making a loss. There are 60 million egg-laying hens in the national scheme. 
(The Sunday Telegraph, 30 July, 1972).

Planners' Roulette (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the many pipe-dreams of capitalist politicians and economists is to be able to plan the smooth and even growth of national economies without the disruptive cyclical phenomena which have been part and parcel of the system in the past.

Despite Keynes and his economic theories and various pseudo-socialist governments throughout the world, who claimed that they could produce a planned economy from which stop-go (as downturns and upswings in economic activity have come to be known in Britain) would be obviated, the capitalist system is still working in the same way it has always worked. Marx described the various stages of the industrial cycle of capitalism, ranging from a state of stagnation to one of intense activity, over a hundred years ago, and it is a description still valid today.

Even the new pseudo-science of econometrics and the development of data and statistics collection and forecasting techniques have failed to eliminate the anarchy from capitalism. The information merely enables the economists to get some idea when the next downturn in the business cycle will occur, but not to prevent it, as post-war events have clearly shown.

An example of the impossibility of planning capitalism was recently illustrated by a report that a five-year plan drawn up by the budget and economic planning ministry of Italy had in effect become a four-year plan and might even become a three-year plan, because of the slow growth of the economy. Obviously there is no point in planning resource application in other sectors of the economy if the output of those sectors upon which they are dependent for growth is incapable of meeting their requirements. It seems that the planners are without a clue to achieve this and may even be regarded as playing a game of chance in drawing up plans on the basis of information which is usually useless before it has left the planner’s desk. A suitable name for an economic planner’s game of chance would be “planners’ roulette”. The fault, however, lies not with the planners, but with the economic system which they are trying to plan and with the economic forces which drive it along.

Goods and services under the capitalist system are produced not to satisfy human needs, but for sale in order to realise profit, for a market. For a variety of reasons, the size of the market is constantly fluctuating and it should be obvious that under such conditions planning is impossible.

The recent rise in unemployment levels and the problem of over-capacity in many industries, viz. textiles, shipping and steel, would support the conclusion that economists do not know where to start. Do economists plan over-capacity and unemployment? One of the aims of planning was to eliminate just this problem and yet clearly they have been unsuccessful. They have been forced to change their plans to conform to the changes in the market; the market has not been controlled to conform to their plans. The housing problem, too, is an area in which governments have intervened on a large scale, but here they have been just as unsuccessful in solving the slum problem and homelessness; the situation is as bad as ever.

Economists claim to be scientific in their outlook and yet if scientists in the natural sciences had such a failure rate in their researches in understanding the world, then the outlook would be pretty bleak for the human race. Most of the economists’ claims ultimately rest upon the false premise that an exchange economy is the only, and indeed the best, way of organizing the production and distribution of wealth. Socialists repudiate this notion emphatically. But more than this Socialists advocate an alternative society based upon production for use. Capitalism has generated a vast, world-wide productive network of industries and a technology capable of producing wealth on an unlimited scale, if it were unrestricted by fetters of the market economy. Only when there has been a world-wide social revolution and the means of production have passed into the control of the whole of society will real planning be possible, a system of planning into which no other factor but human need enters.

The Establishment of Socialism (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a society in which all social affairs, including the production and distribution of wealth will be democratically controlled by the people as a whole. There will be no ruling class nor any permanent administrative élite but rather the active participation of all the people, at all levels and in all fields, in the planning and running of their various common affairs.

This is why Socialism can only be established democratically, both in the sense of being what the vast majority want and in the sense of being established by their own democratically-organised action. Any attempt by a minority to establish Socialism is bound to fail because, without a population who want to participate in social decision-making themselves and not leave it to an √©lite, the minority would be forced to become the exclusive decision-makers and eventually a new ruling class. The very fact that only a minority wanted Socialism would be a sign that Socialism was not yet possible. Indeed, the fact that a minority should think it could establish Socialism before a majority wanted it would show that they didn’t understand the full implication of Socialism themselves and so were not really Socialists.

A look at the various theories of minority, or minority-led, action to establish ‘socialism’ — essentially Lenin’s Bolshevism and its various offshoots, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Castroism, etc. — confirms that in practice these were the ideologies of would-be national ruling classes aiming to industrialize economically backward parts of the world through a policy of state capitalism, mistakenly called ‘socialism’. Their tactics — vanguard party, violent insurrection, ruthless measures against the old rulers and all opponents — are thus quite irrelevant for a genuine Socialist movement, though superficially attractive to those who want radical social change yet despair of ever winning over a currently indifferent or conservative-minded working class. In the unlikely event of them being successful in some highly industrialised country the outcome would be some form of state capitalism, certainly not Socialism.

Any adequate theory as to how to establish Socialism must have as its basic premise that this must be the work of a democratically-organised, socialist-minded working class majority. That the socialist revolution, in other words, must be a majority revolution. Let us follow through the implications of this.

The State machine, being both the public power of coercion and the centre of social administration, must be taken over before capitalism can be abolished and Socialism established, first to prevent it being used to resist this change and, secondly, in order to centrally co-ordinate it. This would not be denied by many of those who advocate minority action. But from here on a basic difference emerges. They repudiate the policy of trying to convince, by peaceful persuasion, a majority to join them in their struggle; in short, they reject democratic methods. Instead they favour minority action, first to disrupt society and undermine the majority-supported government and, then, to take advantage of the resulting social and political instability to seize government power themselves in an armed uprising.

Those who realise that the Socialist revolution can only be a majority revolution have no need to consider such a method of winning State power (which would almost certainly fail anyway with the loss of many innocent working class lives). Once capitalist conditions, including the persuasive efforts of a one-time Socialist minority, have created a Socialist majority the question is: What is the easiest method of winning control of the State?

In the most advanced capitalist parts of the world, such as Britain, where economic circumstances and working class pressure have forced the ruling class to grant a certain degree of political democracy, the answer is obvious. Use the existing political institutions which provide for members of parliament, local councillors and other public offices to be elected by universal suffrage, limited and incomplete as these institutions are from the point of view of democratic theory.

This would involve the Socialist majority organising themselves as a political party, but one completely different both from existing parliamentary parties and from Leninist vanguard parties. The workers’ socialist party must be democratic through and through: its policy and all its activities must be under the complete control of its members and it must have no leader or leaders. Being the actual movement of the working class to establish Socialism it must reflect, as far as is possible under capitalism, the organisational forms of Socialism, namely, democratic control and popular participation. And far from being a vanguard party seeking to lead the working class with attractive slogans, is would merely be the instrument they can use to win political power once a majority of them have become Socialists.

Naturally, such a party would have to appoint candidates to contest the elections for public offices. But those appointed would simply be mandated delegates from the working-class Socialist majority. The position would be the exact reverse of that in existing, parliamentary parties. Instead of the party outside Parliament being essentially only vote-catchers for the parliamentary leadership, Socialist MPs and councillors would merely be the messenger boys of the Socialist working class outside Parliament, democratically-organised in their Socialist political party. And, of course, the aim of sending Socialist delegates to Parliament would not be to form a ‘socialist government’ (a contradiction in terms) but to abolish capitalism as smoothly and peaceably as possible.

Once in control of State power the Socialist majority can abolish the capitalist class’s monopoly over the means of production by making them the common property of the whole community under the democratic control of all the people. And the State machine — as a public power of coercion — would be abolished by its coercive institutions (the armed forces, police, law courts, jails) being dismantled. The remaining administrative institutions (health, education, the State-run industries) would be fully democratised and extended to cover all industries. This done, the centre of social administration has ceased to be a ‘State’, properly so-called, and become simply an unarmed clearing-house for democratically settling social affairs.

Socialism will have been established.
Adam Buick