Thursday, September 14, 2023

Concerning “A National Health Service” (1944)

From the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The White Paper issued in February 1944 dilates on proposals for a National Health Service. This is the result of discussions with various bodies including the British Medical Association (which may be termed the doctors’ trade union), the Royal Colleges, Voluntary and Municipal Hospital representatives. In the words of the report:-
The Government . . . want to ensure that in future every man and woman and child can rely on getting all the advice and treatment and care which they may need in matters of personal health; that what they get shall be the best medical and other facilities available; that their getting these shall not depend on whether they can pay for them, or on any other factor irrelevant to the real need—the  real need being to bring the country’s full resources to bear upon reducing ill-health and promoting good health in all its citizens.
As Socialists we are not impressed by this show of good-will; we give due regard to the capitalist need for healthy workers, and to the date of publication – viz., during a period of something very like war weariness, when accounts of Jap atrocities are needed to pep up morale.

We will digress for a moment to examine the state of medicine at this time in relation to the working class.

Ideas regarding a State medical service for all, not just for insured workers as prevails at the present time, are by no means new, but in their previous forms they have met with opposition from both the British and American Medical Associations. In their organ, the British Medical Journal, the BMA have expressed fear that the present “free” choice of doctor will cease. That freedom of the present choice will be apparent to most workers, but should any retain illusions, they may be quickly dispelled. A worker may not choose a Harley Street specialist, but most have a general practitioner engaged in panel practice, unless he is prepared to spend his meagre earnings on doctor’s fees. The doctor chosen is usually the nearest, in order to save time. Frequently nothing is known of his or her qualifications, letters after the name conveying no more than would hieroglyphics. When the choice is made, unless the worker is extremely ill, he attends an overcrowded surgery, perhaps being allowed five minutes of the doctor’s time. He may, however, not get this, for it has long been the custom for doctors with large panel practices to employ assistants – e.g., newly qualified doctors. The assistant sees the panel patients whilst the doctor attends his fee-paying patients. (This practice is in abeyance during war time, due to the calling up of young doctors, so the poor panel patient gets less time than ever.)

In these days of specialisation, the general practitioner cannot completely attend to all his patients’ requirements. Equipment and the services of dispensers and secretaries are costly. The White Paper recognises this fact and proposes Health Centres in which a group of doctors could practise with staff and equipment provided. The private patients also suffer under the present system. Their own doctor may administer palliatives instead of sending them to the appropriate specialist for radical treatment.

The BMA have also feared they may find their members working in the guise of civil servants subject to control, which they state would stifle initiative and responsibility towards those sacred trusts, their patients. The American counterpart went so far as to remove from membership any doctor taking part in salaried practice, until prevented from so doing by an order of the Supreme Court in 1942.

Much of the opposition to a National Health Service arises from the inability of doctors to regard themselves as members of the working class. They are, in their own opinion, a class apart, members of the highest profession, rendering selfless service to mankind. No doubt many start with the highest ideals, but few keep them. This is not intended to portray doctors as battening ghoulishly on the lay public, but like all others, they are caught in the cleft stick of capitalism. The doctor is an expensive product; he must keep up certain appearances, and bring up his children in like manner. To be successful he cannot escape the sordid struggle for life under capitalism. He must sell his labour power in order to live, as does his meanest panel patient. These facts are not readily appreciated by the BMA, who, however, by their resistance to salaried schemes, have compelled the doctor to sell in the open market.

Nevertheless, the views of the BMA have not been wholly representative of opinion here or in America. In  a leading article, The Lancet (January 22nd, 1944), anticipating the proposals in the White Paper, commented on the advantages to the patient of co-operation between local authorities, hospitals and the doctor, now inadequate, and states that hitherto most attention has been paid to the convenience of the doctors concerned. Unpopularity of central control may be the reason for this outburst. “Enough of this bureaucratic planning; give me my own show and let me get on with it”. The article continues: “The answer to him has already been given. ‘The needs of the sick are endlessly variable; the resources of medicine are multifarious; and only a large adaptable, sensitive, smooth running organisation will fit one to the other in the largest number of cases.'”

Similarly the attitude in the USA, where there is no National Health Insurance, is changing. Reviewing Kaiser Wakes the Doctors, by Paul De Kruif, New York (a work demonstrating the success of shipbuilder Kaiser’s medical scheme for workers in the mushroom ship yards of the Pacific coast, employing 60 salaried doctors), The Lancet of February 19th, 1944, quotes De Kruif’s confession. Hitherto, he had “remained content with official medical explanations that this prepaid medicine was unethical; 100,000 doctors could not be wrong.” It now appears that they could. At the present state of development it is uneconomic for the doctors to sell their labour power in the open market, as the worker cannot afford to buy it, and his health suffers in consequence. The needs of war-time industry here and in the States require workers to receive expert medical attention in every sphere, in order to return to work rapidly and make the wheels of capitalism spin. Note the recent accent on “rehabilitation”. In times of slump the breakdown of a few workers is immaterial when others can be drawn from the reserve army of the unemployed. The present arrangements, in which the general practitioner works alone, are not conducive to the production of efficient, healthy workers. “Accident proneness” is inevitable in sub-healthy states. Also the fact that the worker’s wife has no panel doctor has come to be realised as an anomaly overdue for remedy. As she must be a fee-paying patient, she often fails to seek necessary advice, and comes to accept ill-health as part of her life.

The widespread influence of the BMA compelled the Government to accept its offices in the recent discussions. The White Paper is throughout a sop to the BMA, reiterating again and again that “the patient should choose his own doctor”. The suggested arrangements for the entire population to be covered by insurance has the advantage of simplicity, but not so the arrangement of general practitioners. The Health Centres proposed will be used by a group of doctors who will see their patients there instead of at their surgeries. A salary or equivalent will be paid to them but – and what a large “but” it is – the doctor may still have private fee-paying patients. The report states, however, that no one must be given “reason to believe that he can obtain more skilled treatment by obtaining it privately than by seeking it within the new source”.

Socialists may suppress a smile at so naive a hope. What reason is there to suppose that a doctor now giving greater attention to his private patients than his panel will not continue to do so under the new scheme? It is not hard to visualise a doctor seeing his erstwhile panel patients at the Health Centre, receiving his salary for so doing, and then rushing off to see his private patients. True, the better equipment provided at the Health Centre may even be an inducement to persons of means to attend, so that private practice declines and the doctor ceases to sell his labour power in the open market, but what then?

Will the doctor’s salaried position enable him to see his true place in society? Time will show, but under neither this proposed scheme nor any other will the worker get the requisite attention. Under any scheme in capitalist society expenditure is resisted at every step, as has been the case with housing for the workers (not their masters), sanitation, education and the like. Even the Beverage scheme for health insurance requires that large scale unemployment shall not obtain; such statements serve to demonstrate the hollowness of capitalistic schemes, for it is powerless to prevent unemployment, which is inherent in its constitution. Only under Socialism, where the wages system  will no longer exist, and where the workers will enjoy the fruits of their labour under ideal conditions without exploitation, can doctors truly serve their fellow-workers, and a real health service for all be established.
W. P.

Co-operators decline a Debate (1944)

Party News from the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Hackney Branch of the S.P.G.B., having challenged the Co-operators to debate, received from the Political Committee of the London Co-operative Society on April 10th a letter refusing the challenge on the ground that “no useful purpose would be served.” The letter continues :—.
“The job that lies before us—namely, to defeat and replace the capitalist system—is far too big to waste time in discussing the merits of alternative methods of its achievement. We must all apply ourselves to this job in our own way and hope that the time is not far distant when.our work will be crowned with success.”
The reasons given for refusing to debate indicate a complete lack of understanding of Socialism. In order to make the position clear, we can assure the Co-operators that the complete success of the Co-operative movement will not end capitalism and establish Socialism. Whatever may be said for the aims of such men as Robert Owen a century ago, the modern Co-operative movement has long abandoned them and is now merely a particular form of capitalist trading and manufacturing concern trying to compete with other capitalist concerns in their own field. The Co-operative movement is not a Socialist movement, and is not helping forward the Socialist movement either by its dividend-hunting trading operations or by its political activities in association with the Labour Party. For the Co-operators a debate about the aims and methods of the Socialist movement would at least help them to understand where it differs from their own movement. May we hope that the Political Committee will have second thoughts and accept the debate?
Editorial Committee.

Editorial: A Plea for Sanity in a Mad World (1944)

Editorial from the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is the nature of the human mind to get used to horror and to accept it as normal. Once the mass of human beings have been persuaded that a certain form of social organisation or a certain course of action is necessary, there is hardly any brutality or idiocy at which men will stop if it seems to flow inevitably from the original assumption. Only those who challenge the fundamental belief can hope to escape and preserve some sane values. While doing what they can to spread the Socialist message, including the truth that capitalism is the cause of wars, and that war will not solve humanity’s problems, Socialists can only look on and marvel; with, however, a recognition that in spite of what is happening, mankind still retains a belief that a better way is possible, and spasmodically strives to give expression to the belief. Men accept the millions of death by war, by disease and by starvation, and the limitless destruction of wealth, because these are part and parcel of war and its breeding-ground, the capitalist system of society. They can read of great battles and sieges and become hardened to the price that is paid. The Evening Standard, celebrating the defence of Leningrad, reports that “nearly two million people died of starvation in Leningrad during the great siege” (January 19, 1944).

Total war exacts such an enormous toll and lowers standards of conduct to such an extent that one military writer, Major-General Fuller, revolts against it, and makes the plea for a return to the less barbarous ways of past ages, when efforts were made to restrict war by certain rules “what is so appalling in total war—war without rules— is not the number of innocent lives sacrificed, nor the wanton destruction done, it is the popular gloating over these horrors. . . . This is the point at which western civilisation has now arrived, a point never quite reached by Vandal, Goth or Hun. In sheer barbarity we can advance no further, unless in the next world war the inhabitants of entire countries are exterminated.” (Evening Standard, February 4 1944).

Socialists have a better plan, a real effort to end war by ending cut-throat capitalism.

Here is another example of the men at war who temporarily turn away from what war requires of them. The Daily Express (April 10, 1944) reported that the millionth shell had that day been fired at the Cassino Monastery fortress held by the Germans; yet in the next column was an account of how U.S. Army chaplains held an Easter Sunday service on the Garigliano front and broadcast it in German as well as English, so that German troops could listen. An address was given to the Germans wishing them “a happy Easter” ! “We have been instructed since childhood to love all men, even our enemies. . . . Therefore I wish you also to-day, on behalf of my soldiers, a happy Easter.” Fighting was suspended while this went on.

Then there is the eruption of Vesuvius, just behind the front. Compared with man-made destruction, nature is a poor competitor, but because this was not part of the war but a natural disaster, the authorities used every effort to save Italian civilians (so recently “enemies”) from the outpouring of molten lava. A Gaumont news-film commentator, speaking as the picture showed the burning and destruction of fields, trees, farms and dwelling houses, announced that “steps were taken to feed and clothe the people.”

What the human race needs to learn is that their future happiness depends upon learning to co-operate, not to engage in mutual destruction, but only Socialism will make this possible. The lesson the workers of the world have to learn is that a better world is within their grasp, but it will not come about unless they take positive action to achieve it. Slightly changing the words used by the film commentator, the lesson may be summed up in the phrase that “the people must take steps to feed and clothe themselves,” or, as Socialists have always held, “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”

Editorial: Socialism & the Agitation for Freedom of Speech & Organisation (1944)

Editorial from the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. received from Mr. V. Sastry, Secretary of the Federation of Indian Associations, a letter inviting us to co-operate in the formation of a Defence Committee with the objects of providing legal aid to persons recently arrested for offences against the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, and of conducting a campaign against that and other restrictive legislation. Subsequently the “Anti-Labour Law’s Victims Defence Committee” was established, with Mr. Sastry as Secretary, and with the active backing of various individuals, including one or two Labour M.P.s, and the following: J. Maxton, J. McGovern, Fenner Brockway, and Walter Padley (I.L.P.); Ted Grant (Revolutionary Communist Party); and M. Kavanagh (Freedom Press). The newly formed Committee appealed to us for a donation.

While the S.P.G.B. sympathises with the Committee’s declared object of resisting capitalist encroachments on the activities of workers and their organisations, we declined to associate with this committee or to contribute to it, just as in the past we have refused to associate with numerous other such bodies set up with similar objects. The S.P.G.B. does not consider it desirable to associate with other political organisations and individuals, the aims and methods of which we oppose, in order to further the specific object of agitating against a particular Act of Parliament or action of the police or the Government. Since our own Socialist aim and the democratic principles on which we work compel us to oppose organisations that are not working for Socialism, or that are advocating methods which will not achieve that aim, only confusion would be caused in the minds of the workers if we abandoned our basic opposition and allied ourselves with the organisations in question.

Even on the particular question of interference with working-class activities, experience has abundantly shown what confusion exists in the minds of the self-styled advocates of free speech and freedom of organisation. Normally the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress rank themselves, along with the Liberal Party and the Liberal Press and the Communist Party, as the natural guardians of working class rights. Yet we have recently seen the first two bodies defending the new anti-strike Regulation against which, among other measures, the newly-formed Defence Committee is protesting. Although at present the Liberals and the Liberal Manchester Guardian are inclined to oppose the Regulation, we recall that at the time of the suppression of the Dally Worker, the Guardian and other Liberal papers supported the suppression, though disagreeing with the method. As for the Communist Party, their Daily Worker (now allowed to appear again) has been asking the same authorities which suppressed the Daily Worker to take action against the Trotskyists, to which group belong the four people the present Defence Committee seeks to protect. Recently the Socialist Appeal (Mid-October, 1943), an organ of the Trotskyists, was protesting that the Communist organisation, Central Books, had refused to handle an Indian pamphlet about the famine. Socialist Appeal said : “Such is the love of the principle of ‘freedom of the press’ by these revolutionary gentlemen.” We, however, recall that the Trotskyist attitude in the past has been no better than that of the Communist Party. Trotsky and Lenin (before Trotsky’s exile from Russia) were united in their advocacy of suppressing the press and organisations of their opponents, including, of course, working-class organisations with which they did not happen to agree.

We know nothing of the Federation of Indian Associations which is sponsoring the Defence Committee to protect the Trotskyists, but in view of the known sympathy of some of the Committee’s supporters with the Congress Party in India, it is relevant to recall that the Indian advocates of independence from British rule are no different from the British capitalists in their attitude to working-class organisations. When the Indian Congress Party was in office in Bombay they introduced a Trade Disputes Bill modelled on the British Act. As the Indian Labour Journal (October 23, 1938) remarked, the bill “takes away the legitimate constitutional and powerful weapon of the workers, namely the strike, by declaring it illegal and therefore punishable in a large number of cases.”

The S.P.G.B. is in favour of allowing all groups and individuals unfettered rights of expressing their point of view, but we also recognise the very important fact that while capitalism lasts, the capitalists who control the machinery of government will always be able to use their power to suppress minority groups if they so desire. It is in the interests of the working class to resist such efforts so far as they are able, but working-class opinion needs much clarification before it recognises that working-class interests are not served by the suppression of any point of view, and, further, recognises that the suppression of working-class minorities will not end until the working class achieves democratic control of the machinery of government for the purpose of introducing Socialism.

Letter: Nationalisation, Socialism and Unemployment (1944)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent, Mr. R. Scales, of Newark, Notts, writes telling us that we are wrong to advocate nationalisation because, he says, it causes unemployment. The following extracts from Mr. Scales’ letter and from an enclosed document will sufficiently indicate the conclusions at which he has arrived as a result of the 20 years he says he has devoted to the problem.
“Dear Sir, 
I see your party are intent on nationalisation, so I enclose you an extract from my paper, which will prove conclusively that the same will increase instead of decreasing unemployment.”
The enclosed extract from Mr. Scales’ paper contains the following passage: —
“Nationalisation is not in the public interest, as people finance the working of land, transport, mines, electricity, gas, water, etc., for profit (money) for a living for worker and investors alike, whose spending creates trade to provide each and others a living as by economic law the living of one creates the living of another. Also if industries are nationalised the public will have still to find the money to finance them, as States, having no money, would increase taxes on everyone to raise the money to purchase industries, work them, and compensate present proprietors, thus everyone would pay the same or more indirectly for nationalised services as if owned and worked by private enterprise, and as everyone pays taxes everyone would have less to spend and each cause less trade and more unemployment.”
Mr. Scales’ 20 years’ study evidently do not include any study at all of what Socialists have always stood for. It will therefore come as a surprise to Mr. Scales to learn that the S.P.G.B., far from advocating nationalisation or State capitalism, has always opposed it. Socialism, which is not nationalisation, will not and could not cause unemployment. Unemployment is a term which can only be applied to men and women who get their living by being employed for wages or salary, and as Socialism necessarily involves the abolition of the wages system in its entirety, the advent of Socialism involves the end both of employment and of unemployment. The task of Socialist society will be to organise the co-operation of the able-bodied population in the production of all the necessities and amenities of life, and all the members of society will have free access to the wealth produced. Socialism will provide more leisure for the majority of the population than they have now, because all the able-bodied will be working, instead of, as now, the capitalist class being exempt from the necessity of so doing: and, furthermore, an enormous amount of work which is essential to capitalism (including financial operations, the maintenance of the armed forces, etc., etc.) will not be required under Socialism. Unemployment, the inability to find an employer, cannot exist under Socialism.

Now for some of the details of Mr. Scales’ argument. If we are to believe him, private capitalism does not produce unemployment, but State capitalism or nationalisation does, produce unemployment. Mr. Scales’ belief does not stand examination. He will find, if he enquires, that British capitalism in its heyday of “private enterprise” in the nineteenth century was never without unemployment, and periodically it suffered from the economic crises and greatly increased unemployment that goes with crises. He will find that the same is true of U.S.A., the country which has prided itself on being a country of unfettered capitalist enterprise.

Another point on which Mr. Scales’ argument gees astray is the contradiction between his belief that “spending creates trade,” and thus provides employment, and his further belief that this does not apply to State capitalist enterprises. It is obvious that spending by a Government Department has the same results, no better and no worse, than spending by a private capitalist.

Both State capitalism and private capitalism are up against the same capitalist problem that the working class receive as wages or salary an amount which is quite insufficient to buy the flood of goods that the labour of the working class produces for their capitalist (and State capitalist) masters. Unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, and it matters little to the working class whether they are exploited by capitalists direct or whether they are exploited by the State acting on behalf of the capitalist class. The remedy is not more State capitalism, but the abolition of capitalism and the inauguration of Socialism.
Editorial Committee.

Forty Years—Lest We Forget (1944)

From the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was started in 1904. During those forty years its speakers, writers, and membership have continuously propounded the need for Socialism as the only solution to the economic problems which confront modern society.

The capitalist or master class realise that the present social set-up has very definite advantages for them as a class; true, they have sectional interests within the class in any national area, and again outside in other national areas. These sectional interests are expressed economically in the competitive world by under-cutting, quota systems, tariffs, etc. If any of these methods are going to be of advantage to a section, they immediately proceed to use all the propaganda channels at their disposal to obtain support trom all and sundry. They recognise full well the need for the support of the majority.

Other sections of the master class endeavour to counter by similar means. The economic conflict takes on a political form. It is a struggle for ascendancy of rival groups. Laws are introduced to aid the section in power and hinder rival sections. What is to the benefit of the section in power is “good,” “moral” etc., and the “national” outlook is the outlook of the ruling section. The opposite viewpoint is “bad,” “immoral,” etc., and very “un-national.” Their ideas—in the main—are in conformity with their economic interests. Taxation, education, religion, and science are all harnessed to the needs of the section in power. Other sections seeking to overthrow them develop arguments to alter the incidence of taxation, suggest alternative educational schemes, deprecate existing religious practices, and either start new religious bodies or alter old tenets to suit their needs. They employ scientific research workers to investigate every avenue against their rivals.

So we have the ideas of sections represented in what is commonly known as the Liberal Press, or the Tory Press, or the Labour Press, etc.

This criss-cross of activities goes on incessantly, and slowly, but nevertheless surely, the big wolves eat up the little wolves. Cartels, amalgamations, national and international agreements are formulated and practised. “Patriotism” extends its boundary lines. New alignments, alliances, etc., give rise to new propaganda, new education, religion, laws and science, on behalf of the big wolves.

The smaller wolves being squeezed out, but fighting to the last, also take on different outlooks than previously. What was previously “good” becomes “bad”; what was “just” becomes “unjust,” “sacred” becomes “profane,” “scientific” becomes ”unscientific,” ” freedom “—” slavery,” etc. All this topsy-turvy re-evaluation is but a reflex of the topsy-turvy economic relationships prevailing.

Against all this avowedly capitalist outlook and the economic interests from which it arises, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has maintained a solid front of opposition. The S.P.G.B. recognises clearly that all sections of the master class—big or small—are wolves, living off the surplus value taken from the exploited working class, and are beautifully unconcerned at the jubilation of the victorious big wolves, or the whines and supplications of the defeated small wolves. We were established to bring about the abolition of both big and small wolves—i.e., to abolish capitalism,

We recognise the press propaganda, radio lectures, pastoral pleadings, and educational schemes for what they are—an attempt to maintain the economic status quo. We do not blame the master class for using these facilities to bolster up their system; they would be unique if they did not; but we know how it acts as a temporary brake against Socialism. We also know that all the promises will remain unfulfilled, and in ever-increasing numbers the workers will become disillusioned and despondent of capitalism, and more susceptible to Socialist propaganda. The past has been with capitalism. Socialism has the future. How far into the future we shall have to wait depends upon the working class. They can have Socialism when they want it. So much for the avowedly capitalist parties and their interests. But what of the alleged Labour and “Socialist” Parties.

The working class have contested many issues with all sections of the master class. They have struggled on the economic field for higher wages, less hours of toil, and better conditions of employment. They have formed trade unions to aid them. These unions reflected the opinions of the members, and invariably echoed the sectional outlook of the masters who employed them. A change in taxation policy which injured their masters brought forth protests from the workers who thought they would be harmed. Different trade unions had different outlooks. Some wanted Free Trade, others Tariff Reform, etc. The clash between rival sections of the master class had its repercussion in developing similar rivalry within the sections of the working class. This criss-cross of inter-union rivalry threw up its political forms. Support for Tories alternated with support for Liberals. Such combinations as Lib-Lab contested the rival sectional interests with Labour or I.L.P.

Demarcation lines, filching of members, attempts at amalgamation, etc., caused much dispute. All the internal conflicts within the master class had their replica within the unions, until to-day we have large natioual unions with international affiliations.

Likewise, when the various sections of the master class within a geographical area were challenged by “foreign” capitalists, who were attempting to interfere with both large and small national wolves, they forgot their differences and had now a “common” enemy. The “national” interests were at stake. Again this was paralleled in the workers’ organisations. The “nation” was in danger. Employers A might be bad, but Employers B would be worse. This could be correct, but A and B would still be employers.

Confronted by all this activity on the side of capitalism, the Socialist Party of Great Britain have continued their Socialist propaganda. The need for Socialism is becoming clearer to ever-increasing numbers of the working class. More and more are workers seeing the need to look at world events from a class standpoint, and are discarding slowly but surely appeals to nationality, race, colour or religion.

For forty years we have been advised to do something in the meantime (other than to propagate Socialism). What do the meantimers think of their achievements ? On our part we have nothing to retract, nothing to be ashamed of. Our case is as valid to-day as it was in 1904. Our influence is growing. The Party case is breaking through the conspiracy of silence, and eliciting inquiry from increasing numbers of workers. Despite sneers and jeers, we are on the winning side. History of these forty years is sufficient in itself to vindicate the validity of the Socialist case. Socialism is the immediate issue.

The Scented Spray of Capitalist Propaganda (1944)

From the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the present time slogans and cartoons abound in an effort to attract the attention of the working class and obtain their collaboration for ruling class objectives. Two of these propaganda posters frequently seen in public transport vehicles supply both question and capitalist answer. They read, “What does the common cold cost?'”—”In one year the common cold and ‘flu cost the country 40,000,000 work days.”

The cost of a cold to a worker, since the majority lose pay for absence, is the loss of so many days’ pay plus any addition which may be spent on medical treatment, etc. But this is not the capitalists’ grief; they have not the slightest concern regarding the workers’ illness for the workers’ sake. The capitalists’ concern is shown in the answer they have provided, and which more accurately reads: “In one year the common cold cost US 40,000,000 days’ profit.”

To his regret, the capitalist cannot run the worker unceasingly, as he can his machines, but is obliged to permit him time for rest and the recuperation of his labour-power, and whilst the worker is resting the capitalist is obliged to allow his machines to remain idle, or to employ more labour-power to keep them running. But in addition to these problems which burden capital, the worker at intervals dares to be ill and leave the capitalist high and dry. At times when the labour market is well stocked, the capitalist would speedily replace the absent labour unit with another, and the sick worker would then have the added aid to health in the knowledge that he was sacked. Under the present conditions, when labour power is scarce and under various Government restrictions, the capitalist is unable to obtain substitutes for workers absent through sickness, so that he loses the profit which would have been gained from the exploitation of each absent worker.

The capitalists are particularly alarmed when the country, as recently, is swept by an epidemic, for they know only too well that the food the workers obtain under war-time conditions provides them with little resistance to illness, and the capitalistic mind formulates the mental picture of a further 40,000,000 days (or more) of profit losses.

Whilst the recent influenza epidemic was sweeping the country, at least one Government Department provided a worker, complete with a disinfectant spray to go among the workers at intervals and eject into the air a chemical with a pine odour. The Medical Officer’s comment on this process was that, whilst the disinfectant had not the slightest effect on any germs, it undoubtedly had a great psychological value.

The workers, in explainable ignorance, believe that a squirt into the air of a pungent smelling fluid will safeguard their health, and a psychological effect frequently produces a material result.

This incident brought to the writer a realisation of the frequency with which the workers are duped by psychological effects owing to their lack of political and economic understanding. When the present war concludes (in its military phase) there are going to be a number of germs (very old ones) that will attack the workers’ standard of life—unemployment, insecurity, low wages, competition, etc —and the Government being totally unable within the existing system to destroy these germs, has prepared a spray of palliatives to be ejected into the air of workers’ economic problems. Beveridge will most probably be handed the political spray for the first few squirts in his plan to reorganise poverty. If this should not produce the desired psychological effect, Lord Woolton will have a few squirts with his “New World” mixture, and so the spray will be handed on. Unfortunately, in their lack of political and economic knowledge, many members of the working class will smell the odour of empty promises and futile reforms with which the economic atmosphere has been sprayed, and, bracing their shoulders like a sergeant-major in mufti, will endeavour to console themselves that the world is becoming more healthy for wage slaves.

With the passing of time and the fact that workers are still falling by the wayside of social security will come the realisation that these social germs are as virile as ever, despite all the political squirting.

The necessary research for the total destruction of these social germs and their absolute abolition, has already been successfully achieved by a small section of the working class of the world in their study of the lifetime’s work of the two social scientists, Karl Marx and Fredk. Engels. This organisation of workers is the SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN and their companion Parties in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. These organisations appeal for the assistance of their fellow-workers throughout the world to abolish the germ-ridden system of capitalism, which has a total disregard of human life, by the establishment of Socialism, which means the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Only within a Socialist system of society will workers’ problems be solved and the dangers to social and physical health be prevented. With the acquiring of Socialist knowledge world society will be enabled to enjoy to the full the products of its labour, and the psychological squirting capitalist politicians will be unable to side-track the workers from their objective and ultimate achievement. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is showing the workers the route to Socialism from its public platforms and in its literature. It has no leaders, for upon the workers themselves lies this historic task of establishing UNIVERSAL SCIENTIFIC SOCIALISM.
C. G. C.

So They Say: Menu: Air Pie — (1974)

The So They Say Column from the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Menu: Air Pie —

Popular romantic writers have a stock of words and phrases for instant effect on their suggestible readers: tender, moonlight, yearning, heavenly vision, and so on. Similarly, Labour politicians rely on a small vocabulary designed to make their followers salivate like Pavlov’s dogs — “fair shares”, "equal opportunity”, “make the rich pay”, etc.

On 8th August Denis Healey, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the Labour Government’s plans for wealth and gift taxes. The proposed starting level for the wealth tax is £100,000. To the press, Healey “admitted . . . that the main reason for the taxes was to create a greater atmosphere of social justice in Britain” (Guardian). On television, asked specifically what benefit the working class would get, he said poorer-paid workers would feel better if they knew money was being taken from the rich.

Pavlov’s dogs, dribbling in response to stimuli, failed to notice that the bell ringing was not preliminary to but instead of dinner.

— and an Empty Cup

The real response should have come from the rich, if Healey was attacking them so violently. Hear how they complained:
No one in the City jumped from 20th storey windows, fled the country or even squealed very loudly yesterday on publication of the Government’s Green Paper thinking on a wealth tax. It has singularly little effect on share dealings on the Stock Exchange . . . About the harshest comments on the paper were that it was 'a time-consuming irrelevance’, by the Association of Chambers of Commerce.
But not only do they not mind. The view expressed to The Guardian's business editor was that
the City would not mind a wealth tax if it enabled the Labour or any other Government ‘to institute a meaningful wages policy’.

It is accepted both in the City and by many business men that the wealth tax proposal could be a psychological advantage to the Government in persuading trade unions to accept a nil growth, or even a cut, in living standards over the next year or so.

What Can't Happen Here ?

The history of the “Watergate scandal” and its consequences leading to Nixon’s downfall from the US presidency was a showpiece of hypocrisy — Nixon’s, his accusers’, and the righteous commentators’. Could such a thing happen in Britain? The New Law Journal on 2nd August had some interesting comments.
Watergate ought to provide the necessary impetus to the Government to get on with the task of rewriting
the Official Secrets legislation as recommended by the Franks Commission without further prevarication.

While retaining the strictest security over those matters which are matters of national security, there is an urgent need to remove ‘confidential’ and ‘secret’ classifications from all material which allows officialdom to maintain a cosy secrecy over matters which may merely embarrass, or be inconvenient to, slipshod or inefficient officials.
Which is saying, delicately, that the difference between America and Britain is not over what is likely to happen but over what is likely to be found out. Incidentally, there is a curious word misuse in the extract quoted. “Prevaricate” means go astray, transgress, be equivocal, deceive. The word for putting things off, which is what they mean, is “procrastinate”. A Freudian error?

Pass, Friend

Nixon’s successor, President Ford, is reported to be looked-on favourably by the Chinese government. They are pleased that he insists on military spending as a top priority, because of “their desire to see the strategic balance between the super Powers maintained in America’s favour to inhibit Soviet expansionism” (Guardian, 10th August).

The Chinese view is the one all capitalist statesmen must take — looking for advantage for their own trade and strategy, and never mind from whom. The report says:
Peking . . . will probably only devote a few delayed lines to Nixon’s departure. But the late President was, in any case, much less the architect of the new China policy than was Dr. Kissinger, and the latter’s presence on Mr. Ford’s Administration will certainly be welcome in Peking.

Blowing the Gaff

Fascists in Italy have been in the news with acts of terrorism. One would assume the Communists to be up in arms to extinguish fascism; and one would be wrong.

A State subsidy for all Italian political parties began operating in July; the Communists’ share is £7 millions. A veteran leader described the subsidizing of the fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano as “horrendous and ignoble, so bestial as to fill one with horror”. He was attacked by the party newspaper and his fellow leaders. Only the fascist movement was “horrendous” — but not the subsidy. The Guardian, 13th July, said :
Signor. Pajetta, and the Communists in general, also are opposed to Senator Terracini’s proposal that Parliament should vote for the disbanding of the MSI. The Communist line is that it can be defeated through the ballot box. Privately, they may also realize that a Fascist enemy is politically good to have around.

Plenty Amidst Poverty

There is a physical training game called "O’Grady’', in which the trainees have to do the opposite of what they hear. It must be like that in Communist countries, where equality and the expropriation of the expropriators are articles of faith — while inequality grows and the expropriators’ cigars get bigger.

The Observer had an item on 14th July headed HUNGARY'S PROPERTY BOOM. It was about the rise in house prices in Hungary following legislation to regularize the private ownership of property:
There has recently been a widespread move to acquire houses in the country, not only by the Communist élite, but also on a wide scale by the new managerial class.

Everything above the upper limit is classified as ‘luxury’. But such properties will not be confiscated, as they were when the Communists first took over.

Instead, the owners of ‘luxury’ residences will have to pay a special tax. This is levied on houses and apartments worth more than £20,000 at between ½ per cent and 1 per cent, depending on the number of rooms, and on holiday villas of the same value at between 1 per cent and 1½ per cent.

Getting Dark, Down Under

Our July issue had an article on conditions in Australia, where workers from Britain often go in the mistaken hope of shedding their problems. The unemployment figures released there on 12th August show 93,585 out of work, i.e. 1.90 per cent. of the estimated labour force. Vacancies fell by 21.3 per cent., from July, against the normal trend at this time of the year. The Parliamentary Opposition has predicted 100,000 unemployed by December, with inflation at 20 per cent.

The Guardian correspondent in Canberra wrote on 12th August that
the estimate could prove conservative. The Cabinet seems to have swung solidly against the Treasury argument for further deflationary action in the September 17 budget, for fear of union reaction against unemployment and the need to get voluntary wage and price restraints working.

United Fans Queue Here

The football season has begun; and its weekly accompaniment of numerous arrests and convictions as rabbles of "supporters” smash up everything and everybody they meet in the towns they are visiting.

When the epidemic was starting in 1969 the Notting Hill Anarchist Group issued a leaflet which really should not be left unnoticed. Extracts (our italics) as follows:
Football crowds have always been rough and managed to enjoy themselves. It’s part of the game. Things only turn really unpleasant when a large number of blue uniforms appear on the scene.
After alleging that the directors of football clubs pay the police to arrest “standing” spectators so that expensive seats can be put in the space they now occupy, the leaflet ends:
It’s good to know this anyway, and to get things straight in your own mind about what’s happening, but it’s not worth fighting it on your own . . But if you do get arrested, or anybody you know does, try and send somebody along to see us and we’ll see what we can do to help. The people who are giving out these leaflets will be standing in the same places after the game is over.
This inane truckling to (and half-incitement of) hooligans is supposed to represent a serious outlook on society. Pathetic, isn’t it?
Robert Barltrop

Law and society (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism will be a system of society where the mass of formal rules and regulations which now govern human conduct will disappear. There will also be none of the trappings which inevitably accompany any advanced legal system.

The crushing environment of capitalist society helps to instil in people the idea that the law is some sort of external norm governing human behaviour and that those individuals administering it are a breed of superior beings. The foolish notion that judges and lawyers are somehow of a better moral or intellectual fibre than the rest of us, should not need debunking in the 1970s. Shakespeare did it over 350 years ago. King Lear says, “. . see how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief . . . change places and handy dandy which is the justice which is the thief.”

More recently Belfort Bax in The Religion of Socialism said:
. . . it is an undoubted truth that no judge can be an honest man . . . and why? Because the aspiring member of the bar when he accepts a judgeship knows that in doing so he deliberately pledges himself to functions which at any moment compel him to act against his conscience and wrong another man . . . He lays himself under the obligation of administering a law which he may know to be bad on any occasion when called upon merely because it is the law. He makes this surrender of humanity and honour for what? For filthy lucre and tawdry notoriety. Now I ask can we conceive a more abjectly contemptible character than that which acts thus?
But the Socialist’s attitude to the role of law in society is not based on exposing the fallacy that those who administer the law are a nobler breed of men. It is reasoned on the basis of the law’s function in present day society. Although academic lawyers divide the realm of law into hundreds of different branches, when looked at from the point of view of society as a whole, there are really four main areas of law. These are state, criminal, contract and what is sometimes known as welfare law but is usually more accurately described as poverty law. An examination of these four branches of law shows their bases in capitalist society and how they will be totally irrelevant and unnecessary in Socialist society.

State law is the area of the legal machinery which deals with the individual’s right in society as against the machinery of government and its armed forces. States only exist in capitalist society as arbitrary boundaries, defining areas of competing capitalist interests. Internal state law is the legal machinery used as the front to back up the armed control of the capitalist over wealth produced by the workers. A world community where everything is owned in common will have neither place nor need for laws to keep one section of society in subjection.

Now let’s take criminal law. The vast bulk of this area is concerned with offences against recognised property relationships. All wealth in capitalist society is owned by definite individuals or bodies (e.g. companies or governments). The law takes no notice of how it came about that X owns vast estates and Y owns nothing. Criminal law is there to preserve those relationships that currently exist. The shareholder’s title to his shares is protected by the law (backed up by the armed force of the state); the landlord’s title to his land is likewise defended by the law. The criminal law takes no notice of the social robbery that is a fact of everyday life, i.e. that the land, factories, mines etc. are owned by a small minority. Clearly in a society where all wealth is owned by the whole of mankind, i.e. Socialism, there will be no part to be played by a system or rules to enable robbers to hold on to their booty.

The rest of the criminal law, which is not directly related to the defence of private property is largely concerned with state control of production and distribution. Factory legislation and road traffic legislation set a standard (usually the absolute minimum) for controls in the interest of the whole of the capitalist class. Lorries going at 80 m.p.h. are a danger to other products on the road; men working more than a certain number of hours at a stretch driving these lorries are also a danger to other commodities on the roads. They also risk damaging the goods of their own employer.

It is fairly well known that legislation protecting workers from dangerous machinery and processes is ineffective. Firstly the number of factory inspectors is totally inadequate. Secondly the penalties that are imposed for the breaches that are discovered and brought before the courts are derisive. Many employers find it cheaper to pay the penalty fines that are imposed for hazarding workers’ lives by, for example, unfenced machinery, than foot the bill for complying with safety regulations. In a Socialist society the needs of those involved in the productive processes will not be swept aside by the insane drive for profit.

The final part of the criminal law deals with ‘‘offences against the person’’. In terms of the legal machinery of capitalism it occupies a small part in the whole process. The majority of crimes in this category (often inter family disputes) are traceable to frustrations and problems caused by private property in society. When father comes home having worked a ten-hour day, doing a simple, boring, degrading, mind destroying process, to a wife cooped up in two rooms with three children, it is hardly surprising that domestic violence sometimes results. Other crimes of violence are generally linked with theft in some way or other though a recent ugly development has been political violence. The hooliganism of the football match and the thuggery of the tubes and street corners are only a reaction to the horrific conditions the majority of people face in private property society. In a society where material deprivations have been left behind the need for legal restraint will be found to be obsolete.

The third main area, contract law, covers an enormous field, from buying a joint at the local supermarket to property “developers” buying slag heaps. Quite obviously the majority of workers have little contact with this area of the law or the courts that administer it. Disputes over the amount to pay for a loaf of bread seldom reach the somber pomposity of High Court Judges. On the other hand a dispute over the correct price of a shipment of copper from South America could involve millions of pounds. The capitalist class needs the Civil Courts to sort out their property disputes. The only times the average worker has any real contact with this area of the law is when he is buying a house) of course on mortgage so it is really the building society or the local authority that is buying it); or if he fails to meet his instalments on the h.p. or the fridge. But it is a brief look, and many workers do not even have this glimpse into the mysteries of the workings of the law. Need it be added that when all wealth is owned in common, laws of contract will be as relevant as a horse and cart at the motor show.

Which leaves poverty law. The area embraces the law dealing with state benefits of whatever sort, local authority benefits (e.g. subsidized housing) and certain areas which are known as social law. It is an area where most lawyers know little and care less. After all there is no money to be made for the lawyer in explaining to the pensioner how he can obtain an allowance of 2p off the cost of his butter. It is, however, the area of the law with which most workers make some contact. In 1972 over 10 million received some sort of regular state “benefits", out of a total population of 56 million. (Social Trends 1973 published by the Central Statistical Office). That is a high proportion of the adult population. The distribution of the pittances that are given to the members of the working class, unable to keep even their abysmal standard of living afloat (£16 per week for a married couple not a pittance?) is surely evidence of the appalling failure of capitalist society to produce an answer to poverty. This despite the Lloyd Georges, the Beveridges and the mile upon mile of statutes dealing with poverty.

The vast complicated structure for measuring the subsistence allowances that are doled out to workers only has a place in a world that allows a small minority to live in luxury and forces the vast majority to live in poverty.

Finally, under this general heading of poverty law might be included “family law". The Law Society is responsible for administering the civil Legal Aid system in this country. That is the fund to enable people who cannot afford legal advice or assistance to have it paid by the state in certain circumstances. (This fund is different from the one relating to Legal Aid in criminal cases.) The Law Society calculates that the majority of its funds are used in proceedings relating to divorce, maintenance or custody of children. With the greater pressures that capitalist society bring on personal relationships the divorce courts (which have the task of rearranging the poverty of the working class when family situations get out of hand) are the courts that workers increasingly enter.

In Socialist society where there will be no buying and selling and therefore no money, there will be no financial pressures on human beings, adults or children. The relationships between the sexes will not be complicated by the irrelevant considerations which are of such importance to-day. If people who were formerly living together wish to separate there will be no financial or “moral” pressures to prevent them doing so, and no humiliating proceedings to be endured as a result.

When Socialism is introduced amongst many of the vast changes in human existence will be the following:
  1. Wealth will be produced in the abundance necessary to satisfy man’s physical wants. This is technically possible now, but production is limited to what can be sold at a profit on the market.
  2. There will be free access for all in society to the goods produced. In these circumstances laws defining people’s property relationships will be as unnecessary as they are useless. When poverty is abolished, who needs poverty laws? When private property is abolished, who will want contract and criminal laws defending it?
Ronnie Warrington

September 1904. (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Standard first appeared in September 1904. It has been produced monthly since that date. To mark these 70 years of publication, the following extract has been taken from the first Socialist Standard, instead of the regular 50 Years Ago column.
"In dealing with all questions affecting the welfare of the working-class our standpoint will be frankly revolutionary. We shall show that the misery, the poverty, and the degradation caused by capitalism grows far more rapidly than does the enacting of palliative legislation for its removal. The adequate alleviation of these ills can be brought about only by a political party having Socialism as its object. So long as the powers of administration are controlled by the capitalist class so long can they render nugatory any legislation they consider to unduly favour the workers."
The Editorial Committee.