Saturday, September 23, 2023

Pollitt Forgets the Past (1944)

From the September 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Pollitt has written a pamphlet on Communist policy in answer to questions asked by a Mr. Duxbury, who describes himself as an “adherent” of the Communist Party. The questioner explains that while he has always tried to understand why Communist policy has suddenly changed, he finds it difficult when “he has to tell people the opposite to that which he has been drumming at them for months.” He comments, aptly enough : “They think—’this fellow is a lunatic.' ” Now, however, Earl Browder’s statement that “Capitalism and socialism have now found a way to peaceful co-existence in the same world” has “knocked the wind out of us.”

His enquiries are met with the fatuous assertion that “the general line of our Communist policy has been proved correct in the course of experience on every major political issue since the foundation of our Party in 1920,” page 6. Correct in what respect? We could, if we wished, examine in detail the contradictory and confusing policies of the Communist Party in those 24 years; it will suffice to mention one issue only. Possibly P.ollitt has forgotten the desperate efforts of the C.P. to keep its policy in line with the rapid changes of Russian foreign policy in the autumn of 1939— we all try to forget nightmares. The Communist Party declared support for the war on September 2nd, 1939 (before it started !—they were eager), but on October 7th they issued a manifesto opposing it because they discovered that it was an “unjust” war. Twenty-one months later they supported the war again. At last it was a “just” war; Russia was fighting in it.

Such major changes cannot be dismissed as merely incidental to their “correct” policy. The truth is that the Communist Party has one aim, and that is support of Russian State capitalism. When Russian interests demand it, Communist policy will change overnight regardless of working-class interests. Perhaps these changes have been beneficial to Russia; if so, Pollitt can claim that their policy has been correct, but it has been a correct policy for Russian capitalism, not for the working class. Socialists do not boast that their policy has been beneficial to capitalist interest. They are concerned with working-class interests only—the Communist Party is not.

In his explanation of Earl Browder’s dissolution of the American Communist Party and his support of Roosevelt, Pollitt says that with a Democratic President peaceful cooperation between Russia, Britain and the U.S.A. is guaranteed. Even were it possible to guarantee peace (and we emphasise that it is not possible), this policy means the support of men who intend to administer capitalism in one form or the other. The Communists are pledged to support the continued exploitation of the working class; no excuse will hide that fact.

One or two points in the questioner’s letter deserve comment. He wants to rally the millions who desire Socialism but will not listen to it if it were preached for 100 years. He wants Socialism before he is 30, and he continues : “I want to catch the fastest bus. Lenin would have made great decisions here.” After advocating unity between the Communist Party and the Common Wealth Party, he says : “The only thing that I can see is Unite and sweep capitalism to hell out of it by vigorous political action.” We want Socialism as quickly as possible, but we know that there is only one fast way—the correct way. These who are merely in a hurry but have little or no understanding of the Socialist case have followed many paths—paths that have led anywhere but to Socialism. Lenin, who is mentioned, was one who wanted to get Socialism quickly. He constantly urged his colleagues to insurrection and emphasised the need for seizing power even with a minority. He also repudiated the need for working-class understanding with the plea that it would take 500 years (Socialist Standard, May, 1921).

Lenin and the Bolsheviks achieved power and made their great decisions; but did they establish Socialism ? Of course not. The economic conditions were not ripe in Russia, but even in a modern industrial system Socialism will not be the outcome of any “great” decisions by leaders or parties. Those in a hurry must realise that Socialism will make headway only when workers are willing to listen to and discuss the Socialist case. Pollitt talks of “unity” so that a division in the “Labour and progressive vote” can be avoided. The Socialist wants votes for Socialisjn. and knows that when the workers want Socialism they will unite and take political action, hostile to all “progressive” or “reactionary” capitalist parties.

Finally, Pollitt says “that the Party is growing, that its meetings, . . . its members are the envy of every political organisation in the country.” Is that so? Do people envy “lunatics”?
Lew Jones

‘Philanthropy’ An Asset to the Capitalist (1944)

From the September 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following report, taken from a trade paper, needs very little comment: —
“The effect of a judgment which Mr. Justice Macnaughten delivered on June 16th in a revenue case was that contentment and loyalty of employees have a monetary value which their employers may include in the computation of their capital for assessment of excess profits tax.

“The case before the court concerned payments of over £1,000,000 by Lever Bros, and Unilever, Ltd., into their employees’ pension fund in order to provide pensions for employees and their widows. The company contended that by the payment of these sums they had brought into existence an asset in a feeling of greater security and contentment among their employees, leading to increased efficiency, and that the value of the asset should therefore be included in the computation of the capital employed in the business.

“The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, holding that no asset had thereby been created, assessed the company accordingly. The Special Commissioner upheld the finding; from that decision the company appealed.

“Mr. Justice Macnaughten allowed the appeal, saying that it could not be suggested that the word ‘asset’ in the schedule to the Finance Act, 1929, was restricted to material things; the company had acquired an asset within the meaning of the Act, and its value was the amount paid for it.” (The Insurance Mail, 21/6/44.)
There it is—pensions for worn-out workers, an asset to be paid for at its market price.
R. Ambridge

From the Cradle to the Grave (1944)

From the September 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Manchester Evening News of May 25, 1944, publishes an article by a staff reporter under the heading, “Control of Funerals, Unlikely.”

We are not here concerned with the question of price control, whether for ingress to or egress from “this sorry scherne of things entire”—that we can safely leave to those “financial wizards” and “price ceiling experts” whose job it is to “navigate” the “good ship Capitalism.”

The footnote to the above mentioned article is much more interesting and informative, and we quote it as follows :
“Prices at Southern Cemetery for Graves range from £3 4s. 6d. to £72 15s. More than 50 per cent. are buried in £3 4s. 6d. graves. Those at £72 15s. are double spaces in prominent positions on main drives. Single space in same position costs £30 1s. (Our italics.)
Human beings born into the working class are rocked in “shoddy” cradles, dressed in “shoddy” clothes, fed on “shoddy” food, housed in “jerry” buildings, and when their days of toil are over buried in “shoddy” graves. Worn out by a lifetime of toil and poverty midst plenty, the worker “giving up the ghost'” reaches his goal—a “£3 4s. 6d. grave.”

Not for him the prominent main drive; a back row will suffice, but he may console himself with the thought that the worms are probably fatter where the potentates are laid !

”Prominent graves for ‘prominent’ men” is a fitting slogan for supporters of capitalism, whilst the stone mason, exercising all his skill on magnificent monuments for “great” men and marble memorials for millionaires, vaguely wonders if he will manage a “wooden” cross!

The art of the stone mason adorns the pillars of plutocracy, but the stone mason—lies fertilising in the “back row.”

This is capitalism, from the cradle to the grave. Workers, unite for Socialism !
G. R. Russell

North Africa, Italy and Capitalism (1944)

From the September 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Because the Socialist Party of Great Britain is composed of members of the working class who, like most workers, are tied down to the place wherein they sell their labour power, we have not been able to do much to propagate Socialism directly to peoples of other lands. But although we have continually stressed the capitalist evils existing in this country, it does not follow that the S.P.G.B. is blind to the stultifying effects of capitalism in other countries. Indeed, those who have studied our case know that we have always stressed the universal nature of capitalism. Go wherever you will, you will find on one hand a privileged class that, without the necessity of working, can enjoy every luxury and comfort, and even dodge many of the worst effects of war, and, on the other hand, a far larger class composed of those who are forced to work to gain the bare necessities of life. Go where you will and, side by side with the wealth of those who produce nothing, you will see the poverty of those who produce all wealth—the workers.

With this fact in mind, the present writer would address those men and women who have been drawn into some branch of the Services and eventually sent abroad.

Possibly for the first time in your lives you have seen the sordid and nauseating effects of capitalism in countries other than England. You have, perhaps, been to North Africa and seen the dire poverty, squalor and hunger rampant in that vast terrain. You have seen disease-ridden Arabs dragging out an existence on tracts of land where the soil produces nothing that is edible. You have possibly wondered, with science at its present advanced state, why chemical fertilisation of the soil has not been undertaken. To the Socialist the answer is simple : Capitalism does not think such a step profitable.

Side by side with the poverty of the Arabs you have seen the wealth of Continental parasites, who can live in palatial, comparatively hygienic houses that are protection against the flies, mosquitoes, and stinks that beset the major part of North Africa’s population.

Possibly you have been to Italy and witnessed there the abject poverty and hunger of the many and the wealth and plenty of the few. You have seen the Naples slums—and maimed men and women begging in the dusty streets. you have learned, perhaps, that when Mussolini rose to power he ordered the patching up of these slums and the arrest of all beggars seen upon the streets. Thus to the tourist and casual observer slums and beggars did not exist in Italy. The grand facade of brightly coloured house exteriors and streets without beggars did its work in advertising what Fascism had done for the workers, yet merely hid the filth, insanitary conditions and destitution that actually existed.

By learning this, perhaps, you have realised that a Fascist administration, by a ruthless eradicating of visible signs of poverty and squalor, may give a grand exterior to capitalism, but can do nothing towards actually curing the evils inherent in the social order.

You have seen, perhaps, Italian workers too poor to buy the food that will give them proper nourishment. You have seen shops that, through the background operations of prospering, well-fed “black-marketeers” are able to sell, at prices beyond the reach of the. workers, a bountiful supply of food, clothing, and other necessities. You have seen the rich satisfy their wants by paying the prices asked. You have seen the poor, half-fed and in rags, because they are unable to buy.

Fellow workers, many of you have seen these things now. Is it not obvious that the poverty-stricken, stultifying, disease-breeding conditions of the workers are not confined to Britain, but exist in every capitalist country? Does not the magnitude and far-reaching nature of this outworn social order convince you of the importance of abolishing it, with all its contradictious, anomalies and insanities ? Are you not convinced that capitalism should be replaced by a social order wherein all co-operate in producing and distributing the needs of society—wherein there is no master class exploiting a slave class—wherein the whole of society has free access to the products of society ?

Workers! what are you going to do about it?
Frank Hawkins

By The Way: Of Mice and Men—or Rich Tabby (1944)

The By The Way Column from the September 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of Mice and Men—or Rich Tabby

A Boston lawyer has left $100,000 for the maintenance of his pet cat. He has also cancelled seven bequests of $20,000 each to seven relatives “because of their contemptuous attitude and cruelty towards my cat.” (Daily Mail, August 5th, 1944.)

He left $40,000 to his housekeeper, to ensure that she is in a position to maintain “Tabby.” This reminds us of the Pekinese dog that was left a few thousand shares in a British company some years back.

The workers in the concerns where the $140,000 is invested may now have the pleasure of slaving to maintain the governor’s pet in luxury, after the bloke himself has snuffed it. This is only a difference of degree; we doubt not that the cat has far more intelligence and is much more useful than some of the “film-stars” (? !), chorines, dancers, and others whom wealthy men frequently marry, especially when one dies, leaving the producers of their wealth, the workers, to maintain and fawn upon them in ridiculous opulence. The bequeathing of large chunks of labour productivity to animals and “pets” is the final epitome of the irrational and obsolete capitalist system, where the best portion of society toils unnecessarily for a few largely idiotic parasites, to the detriment of both.

* * *

One of the Four Freedoms

From the Daily Mail of August 15th we learn that the Registrar-General announces that a complete scheme of National Registration is in preparation for use after the war.
“Under a peace-time National Register everyone throughout life would have, in addition to a name, a code number.”
This, he thinks, would abolish bigamy and be necessary for operating the new social services.

We have had occasion to point out previously, and it is no discovery of the Socialist Party, that this sort of “temporary” war-time legislation is always much more difficult to get off the Statute Book than to put on.

As capitalism is allowed by politically ignorant workers to develop further in the direction of State centralisation, it becomes more obvious that we are approaching the conditions described by Mr. Hilaire Belloc in his book “The Servile State.”

This was a state of affairs where every citizen was numbered and docketed like a parcel, and every intimate personal action supervised by a board of State bureaucrats, with endless cards, numbers, permits, etc.

This is not Socialism. A genius like Oscar Wilde was much nearer the mark when he wrote in his “Soul of Man under Socialism” that only “with Socialism could we reach real individualism.” Wm. Morris expressed the same idea.

In the early days of the working-class movement nothing in Continental despotism was so roundly denounced as the reactionary passport system. The yellow spot of the Jew was a similar measure. Labour Liberals of two decades back poured the bitterest invective on the reactionary oppression of the Tsar’s secret police, with its individual passport system. It has taken a war for the Four Freedoms to shackle the working class with the National Service officer and a code number, like a convict, for life. Socialism will not be servile neither will it be a State.

The State is a private property institution which under Socialism will wither away. Freedom will be inevitable because economic equality of all will be the basis of society.

* * *

German Women to Work Harder

From the Times, July 29th, 1944 : —
“It is announced from Berlin that as a part of Goebbels’s efforts to secure total mobilisation women and adolescents will be directed into war work to the fullest extent. Curiously enough, the German press points out that while Russian women and children served unstintingly in Leningrad during the siege, and British women work as dock labourers and in all sorts of arms production, German women have hitherto contributed far less to the war effort. Why should they be exempt, the newspapers ask, now that the German homeland is being besieged ?

One of the first changes is that women will release men for the forces by becoming motor drivers.

Goebbels issued his first total mobilisation decree yesterday. According to an announcement by the German wireless last night, the decree is aimed "at all persons liable for work who have fulfilled their labour duties in appearance only, persons who through family or other connection have obtained a labour contract enabling them to lead an easy life far away from the nation’s common strain of war’.”—Reuter.
After a terrific fanfare of the usual boloney, Goebbels is now announcing the measures to be introduced to find more men for the shambles. British readers will probably be somewhat surprised to read that one of the drastic “total” totalitarian war schemes is that women are to release men by becoming motor-drivers. Really ! Dr. Goebbels ! the poor old, worn out, effete democracies did this years ago. Apparently Mr. Bevin can give the Nazis ten yards start in a hundred at this game, and beat them any time. The stories the British Ministry of Information told us about “Hitler’s slaves” don’t sound so good any more either, if it has taken all this time for them to check up on “dodgers” (who seem to manage pretty well in England, too, if they’ve enough money), and tell the women to start driving motors.

* * *

New Curtains, Fruits of Victory

There is probably no clearer indication of the real frame of mind of the capitalist class than the advertisements which the directors of various large firms are publishing just now. All sorts of concerns are stating their post-war intentions. Motor manufacturers advertise the advent of a world with wide motor roads and better “So and so’s” cars. The I.C.I. state that their view is that the post-war world must be international. Makers of toffees and wireless sets, building societies, brewers, tobacco manufacturers, textile firms—all strike the same note.

“Bigger and Better” this, or that, is what it practically amounts to. One of the most fantastic actually says : —
My Peace Terms.

“Freedom for the oppressed people of Europe. . . . New curtains in the sitting room . . . and back to fresh butter, honey, and lovely—Cream Crackers! (Daily Telegraph, July 26th, 1944.)
One can only conclude that people who can write of “Freedom for the people of Europe” in the same breath as curtains for the sitting room have been rather seriously affected by the buzz-bomb.

The hollow mockery and revolting hypocrisy of this mentality is the strongest possible proof of the real aims of the Capitalist Government in war. They have no more concern for the people of Europe than those of anywhere else. Their idea of Freedom is a new pair of curtains.

That’s all right—as far as it goes—but when they want us to believe it’s for freedom for the oppressed people of Europe or somewhere—Well, Donald Duck has a word for it’

* * * 

“Pay Them Well”

Thus the Daily Mail for August 4th, 1944. They refer to the fighting Services. Lord Rothermere and friends are quite indignant with the Pensions Minister and the Cabinet for being niggardly with Services pay and “huckstering” about pensions and allowances.

That it is utterly outrageous that the wife of a soldier killed in battle should get less than the wife of a soldier still lucky enough to survive, the Socialist is the last to deny !

But, says the Mail with lordly (“Press-Lordly”) disdain, “A copper or two granted here, a readjustment made there is considered sufficient.”

“The costly policies initiated by the Government (free public schools, public health services, social security) are the hall-marks of the twentieth century.”
The “pay per day” method is a relic of the times when soldiers were mercenaries—mere casual labourers of the battlefields. It should be abolished, just as it has been abolished in the docks. The modern fighting man is a highly trained combatant and a skilled technician. He should be paid a salary and a good one.” (Italics ours.) (Daily Mail, August 8th.)
What the Mail calls a “good salary” for soldiers it carefully refrains from saying. We know men who would not do it for all the tea in China. Certain it is that, like working for the Socialist Party, nobody does it for what he gets in money—which is a joke, even for the officers.

Two things about the Daily Mail’s viewpoint interest us as Socialists, apart from the fact that the British capitalists, having raked in big profits during the war, feel at the moment—but only at the moment—like a man at the last course of a magnificent banquet—(“Gentlemen, you may smoke”), and are ready to chuck a pound in the plate for the waiter.

One is the statement that the “costly policies of the Government are the hall-marks of the twentieth century.” In other words, it is the considered policy of the capitalists to-day to give up a little, in the shape of reforms for the workers, to try to avoid having to surrender the lot to a discontented, Socialist, working class. As Socialist knowledge spreads among workers, and Labour leaders find it more difficult to convince them that reform of capitalism is “instalments” of Socialism, Lord Rothermere, Sir Samuel Courtauld, Lords Mcgowan and Nuffield will shower reforms, like the Beveridge Plan and More Pay, upon them to keep them occupied—and quiet. Even if it is reforms you want—which we Socialists do not—it is better to plump for Socialism.

But more important than this—the Mail points out that the one-time mercenaries who sold themselves for the King’s shilling—the “scum of the earth” of Rudyard Kipling and Billy Bennett—the old beer-swilling sweats—the “poor bloody infantry” of the past—like their civilian counterparts, the unskilled labourer, have become “highly trained skilled technicians.”

Modern fighting men, unlike their predecessors in history, are simply modern working-men put into uniform for organised scientific technical mass killing.

Some historians declare that the hired mercenaries of the Middle Ages fixed up representative conferences the night before “battle commenced” to arrange terms, and that sometimes battles did not start until the generals had agreed to “the rate for the job.” On other occasions armies just transferred during battle to the other side for more money.

But modern complicated capitalism, handling immense armies of millions at war, with colossal modern scientific equipment, can no more work on these methods than a man can pilot a plane without instruments.

Modern soldiers, or workers, in the world of 1944 are becoming highly trained skilled technicians; they are rapidly becoming producers of modern super-abundance in control of mighty complex engines which subdue and transform the forces and resources of nature—in other words, the result of the development of capitalism—is to make the working man of to-day a potential Socialist. But only potential; the ground is getting richer for the reception of the seed; the job of the Socialist Party is to implant it, deeply and firmly— it is certain to grow and multiply.

As workers and soldiers become still more highly educated, they will more easily grasp the futility of illusory scrambles for pennies or shillings extra, and fix their eyes on the real goal—abolition of private ownership—not large salaries, but what they produce. Lord Rothermere can pay as well as he likes. It will avail him nothing.

Sting in the Tail: None So Blind (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

None So Blind

Whenever outbreaks of racial, ethnic or religious intolerance occurred in America or Western Europe, supporters of the "communist" dictatorships would claim that none of these evils could happen in "the socialist countries" because their governments, through education, had eradicated them.

These governments had, after all, exclusive use of the education system and the media for decades, so surely this, together with their avowed opposition to such evils, should have succeeded in at least reducing them.

Every day we can see the awful reality: anti-semitism, national, ethnic and religious hatreds are rife in all the so-called "socialist countries" and have even produced minor wars in some of them.

Of course the dictatorships had never even tried to remove the old divisions but had merely kept the lid on them. These divisions persist because the conditions which spawned them — ignorance, poverty and insecurity — remain, and this was something those supporters of the state capitalist dictatorships couldn't or wouldn't see.

Noble Toady

Lord Woodrow Wyatt has complained in the House of Lords about political bias by "left-wing" TV programme makers.

But what about Tory Was in the press? As was pointed out in the same debate, Rupert Murdoch owns 35% of the national press and no one can say his papers aren't biased.

Wyatt didn't complain about THAT because, you see, he is a columnist (The Voice of the People) in the News of the World which is owned by — Rupert Murdoch!

Ridiculous Ridley

The political demise of Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will leave all socialists dry eyed. He was the usual brand of arrogant Tory so beloved of the Prime Minister. His political departure, seen from the perspective of a socialist, is of no importance whatsoever to the working class.

What is of interest to socialists in the Ridley resignation is the background which led to it. Mr. Ridley, after what would appear to have been too good a lunch, spouted his ridiculous nonsense Into the tape recorder of the editor of The Spectator.

Even by arrogant Tory standards these were far from diplomatic musings:
This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe. It has to be thwarted. This risked takeover by the Germans on the worst possible basis, with the French behaving like poodles to the Germans, Is absolutely intolerable . . . I'm not against giving up sovereignty on principle, but not to this lot. You might as well give in to Adolf Hitler.
To the suggestion of The Spectator that if these were his views would he consider resignation he replied:
I've been in office for 14 years. I've been elected to parliament six times. I’m still at the top of the political tree, and I'm not done yet.
It was once said by another political trickster that "A week is a long time In politics." And it has been proved to be the case for Mr. Ridley. His political tree has been chopped down, and politically he is most definitely done.

Society in Conflict

Good news for some in capitalism is usually bad news for others and we are reminded of this by ICI's decision to close its loss-making fertiliser business.

For example, as fertilisers have lost £39 million in the last four years, then ICI's shareholders can hope for bigger dividends in future.

Against that are the 640 workers who will lose their jobs. The "greens" will be happy as ICI's inorganic fertilisers are a major source of water pollution. But if any "greens" are among the sacked workers then they will hardly know whether to laugh or cry.

Incidentally, one of ICI's reasons for the closure, that farmers are simply using less fertiliser, greatly pleased one newspaper:
There can be few things more nonsensical than one farmer ladling fertiliser onto a field while the farmer next door is being paid a set-aside grant by the EEC to grow nothing.
(The Guardian 26 July)
We can thank The Guardian for unwittingly revealing another feature of capitalism — its anarchy of production.

Roads to Ruin

Socialists are always showing that capitalism is a wasteful, inefficient social system. A recent report in The Independent 16 August Illustrates our point very well.

A committee of MPs reporting to the Department of Transport on the state of Britain's roads was scathing on the constant need for these roads to be repaired.
Robert Sheldon, Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne and chairman of the committee, said: "The Romans built roads that lasted thousands of years. We build our roads and eight years later we have to start repairing them."
The construction of these roads goes out to tender and the cheapest quote gets the job. The construction companies all have shareholders who are only interested in one thing — profit. So it does not take a financial wizard to appreciate that like all profit-making businesses every effort will be made to cut costs.

The cheapest materials possible will be used. In order to cut labour costs all sorts of schemes will be devised to speed up the work, inevitably producing a sub-standard job.

The extent of this shoddy production is reflected in the staggering costs of repairs:
More than £1 billion a year is spent building new motorways, trunk roads and bridges. The report said the National Audit Office had identified 210 cases of premature defects, with total repair costs of £262 million.
In defending this waste of human effort Christopher Chope, Road and Transport Minister, inadvertently revealed the cause of the whole sorry mess.
You could build all the roads so that they would not need repairs for 60 years, but the cost would be so great it probably would not represent good value.
This type of reasoning is typical of the capitalist system. Motor cars are built that only last a few years, car ferries operate that turn turtle in the English Channel, aircraft are flying with fire hazardous fittings that could be replaced by safer materials. The catalogue is a long, depressing and often tragic one.

The Lively Corpse

Someone once wrote a blood-curling story about a murderer who couldn't get rid of the body. He burned it in a furnace, submerged it in acid, dumped it in a lake, cut it into pieces, but the corpse always returned. The murderer finally gave up and turned himself in after waking up one morning to find the thing in bed with him.

This tale reminds us of the exasperating resilience of something else that will not lie down — the class struggle.

Academics and politicians are forever assuring us that it is dead and yet it constantly turns up all over the world in the form of, for example, strikes and lock-outs.

Despite repressive laws and awesome state power ranged against them, workers have created trade unions in South Africa, Eastern Europe, South Korea, etc.

As long as capital and wage-labour exist then so must the class struggle and this is something which all those who would bury it cannot change.

SPGB Meeting: A Socialist View of the Middle East Crisis (1990)

Party News from the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The letters page of the November 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard carried a couple of comments about the September 11th meeting, including critical comments from the Left-Communist International Communist Current.

There is a recording of the available. Sadly, I can't embed the video on the blog but it is available on the SPGB's website. I haven't listened to it, so I can't vouch for the sound quality.

Panel – Steve Coleman, Richard Headicar, Kerima Mohideen
Venue: Conway Hall, London
Date: 11th September 1990

Caught In The Act: One of us (1990)

The Caught In The Act Column from the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of us

One of Parliament's discarded traditions was that the Labour benches should be thickly strewn with men whose roughened hands and accents betrayed their antecedents as coal miners, dockers, steel workers and the like.

Some of these Honourable Members were so uncouth as to make caustic speeches about the archaic rituals, the ambitious toadying and the cross party amity which seemed so necessary to life in the Commons and to wonder how these things could be endured by a party which was supposed to stand for social revolution. Others were so struck by what they saw that they could hardly wait to kit themselves and their wives in the finery needed to participate in revolutionary activities like Buckingham Palace garden parties.

Among these vacillating members were some points of stability — people whose wealth and heritage gave them an immunity against the rampant naivety. These were the MPs who tried to deceive themselves that they were impelled by their consciences onto the side of tho class whose exploitation provided their exalted status, who tried to avert any accusations of patronising their less wealthy Labour colleagues by outdoing them in outrageous left-winging — or rather eccentricity.

One frequent outcome of this was promotion into government rank, which quickly emphasised to them that they were in Parliament to protect the interests of the ruling class and not to sympathise with a sentimental jumble of misconceived substitutes for political principles.

In the first Cabinet of the 1945 Labour government there were five ex-public schoolboys (including two Old Etonians) amongst them Hugh Dalton and Stafford Cripps, whose opinions and work as managers of the finances of British capitalism disqualified them from any claim to be socialists. Both were enthusiastic propagators of the ruling class message to the British workers, that they had to work harder and receive less so that their exploiters could win back their place in the world economy of capitalism.

If at times rich people sat uneasily alongside ex-miners and dockers it was because they were not considered to be One of Us. They winced as they kissed voter's babies (employing a nanny to bring up their own children, they could never be sure they were holding the child the right way up); supping obligatory pints of mild in the constituency working men's club was little short of agony to a sensitive soul longing for the sanctuary of evening sherry among elegant friends who did not speak with those dreadful accents.

That, at least, is one agony that time and political developments have eased, for as Labour has established itself as the alternative government for British capitalism its MPs are more likely to be economists, barristers, doctors or journalists than toilers by hand. The eccentrics are now members like Dennis Skinner, who performs the intellectual juggling act of supporting capitalism by being a member of the Labour Party while having a reputation for making irreverent and penetrating comments on the essential hypocrisy of the system

Tory trade unionists
The Tories have not been free of such problems After their defeat in 1945 party chairman Lord Woolton decided that the way back to power lay in getting out among the people All over the country the Tories took to the streets at outdoor meetings 

Among their London speakers was Bob Bullbrook, a thick-set man (which could also be said of his brain) with a voice like an injured buffalo. Because he was a trade unionist (he liked to introduce himself to his audiences as a gas worker, which was not liable to pacify them) Bullbrook was something of a protected species in the Tory Party so they adopted him as their candidate in some constituency where Labour sat on an Everest-like majority. Of course he failed to scale it and. unlike other Tory hopefuls, he was not rewarded with the candidacy of progressively winnable seats. When the Conservatives came back to power their interest in outdoor propaganda faded and with it Bob Bullbrook. In spite of his energy and misguided commitment Bullbrook was not One of Us.

But one example of the threatened species did survive, at least for a while, Ray Mawby was more or less forced onto the Tories in his constituency Totnes — by the party hierarchy in their eagerness to reassure all trade unionists that their interests were close to the hearts of Conservatives in even the poshest, most secure of parliamentary seats.

Educated at a council school and trained as an electrician, Mawby's dour and unappealing personality grated on the Old Etonians and ex-officers who sat alongside him. He lacked what are politely called the social graces, speaking like an electrician who has just had a nasty shock from a wrongly wired up plug and probably shovelling his peas in with his knife. His fellow Tory MPs. on the assumption that so charmless a bounder must be Labour, would sometimes ask him to pair with them (what Mawby replied was not recorded and in any case was probably not suitable for a publication intended for family reading) This treatment did not reduce his ardour for capitalism nor for corporal and capital punishment for those who offended against the system's law and order

After holding a couple of minor jobs under the Postmaster General (which hardly helped to sustain the propaganda about the welcome awaiting trade unionists in the Tory Party) Mawby was contemptuously and relievedly deselected by the Totnes Tories and, no doubt to the satisfaction of a lot of trade unionists, he was then forced to sign on the dole. It was as much as he could expect he was. after all. not One of Us.

A lot of energy is expanded in analysing the collusive aspects of capitalist politics and the effect this has on the way the system is organised and governed. Bitter, rejected people like Mawby are prone to develop ideas about how much moro efficient — more repressive, predictable, exploiting — capitalism would be were it not for irrelevant prejudices that power should be wielded by those who went to the 'right' school and university or who wore in a ’good' regiment — or active in an ideologically right trade union. That neat, simple theory has led the outraged sensibilities of many a political reject. The snag is that it does not match with reality.

Whoever has been in charge of capitalism, and whatever their origins, the effects on the system and on the working class whose exploitation nurtures the entire set-up, has been unnoticeable. At one time it may be a languid. superior Trollope-addict like Macmillan: at another a professed meritocrat like Wilson or Heath: at another a philistinic small town grocer like Thatcher

These leaders offer material enough to assuage the appetite of the hungriest sociologist searching for an illusory insight and solution for capitalism's desperate problems. One vital fact fails to engage their attention: by its nature this social system cannot satisfy human needs, it must produce schisms.

Ray Mawby once said it would need a psychiatrist to discover why he went Conservative. Well yes — that goes for them all: it is not absolutely necessary to be mad to support capitalism but it helps 

Germany reunites (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The East German state circus, traditionally one of the most revered in the world, has been closed down. What animals can be sold will be; the rest are to be killed. The market has come to town and the unprofitable circus must go. Into the fertile area of East German magazine sales has come the West German and American porn industry. There are profits there, you see. Ah, the sickly smell of free-market "liberation’’.

If you read the British press it all seems so simple. East German Communism has been swept away. The free marketeers have come from the West to make life good. Germany is to be unified. The Germans are to be the most prosperous of Europeans. Hurrah for capitalism! The reality is different. There never was communism in East Germany, but state capitalism, ruled over by a class of party bosses who ran East German exploitation for their own ends.

State capitalism, not socialism of any description. has failed utterly and now East Germany is to be integrated into the rest of the private-capitalist world. Germany is being unified, but it is still divided between those who own its resources—the capitalists—and those who produce its wealth—the workers. These two classes, whose interests are diametrically opposed to one another, can never be united, except in terms of a national illusion. As for prosperity coming to Germany, there are plenty of workers who will tell a different tale—particularly the more that they are exposed to the harshness of the unregulated market.

Massive unemployment
East German workers face massive unemployment. In the past their jobs, which were often state-subsidised in order to maintain the appearance of full employment, produced goods for the East German national market. Now that market is being saturated by West German capitalist outfits which can sell higher quality commodities than East Germany is able to make. Of the 8000 East German firms, which are due to be privatised in October, the vast majority cannot compete on the open market with their West German rivals. In particular, food, textiles and mechanical engineering firms are going bust.

According to Creditreform, a West German credit-rating company which is now active in the East, there will be two million workers unemployed in East Germany after the October privatisation. The "good news" is that new jobs—just under a million—will emerge by the end of 1991 in new services, notably financial institutions and hotels (Rheinischer Merkur, 15 June). Even if this promised light at the end of the dark tunnel of unemployment proves to be a correct prediction, who wants to move from producing useful wealth to taking jobs counting money in banks or insurance houses, or waiting on tourists? Is that what liberation means? And it should be noted that even if the most optimistic forecasts come true, there will still be over a million unemployed East Germans by the end of next year.

East German workers with jobs are discovering something else: that they are expected to pay West German prices for goods and services, but the capitalists investing in East Germany are only willing to pay old East German wages. So. we see the disgusting contradiction of East German stores with shelves full of hitherto unobtainable commodities, but all that the East German wage slaves can afford to do is look at them longingly.

They were fed the lie that once the Berlin Wall came down they would enjoy access to all the goodies which they had spent years seeing advertised on West German television. Well, the Wall is down, but poverty persists. Is it any wonder that the German press has reported a major increase in petty crime in East Germany? The capitalist explanation is that the East German workers have yet to understand the ethos of private property relations and are recovering from years of state-capitalist frustration. The fact is that they are angry, particularly the young East Germans who were promised a market which would liberate them; they have been offered unemployment or low wages, and commodities which they are too poor to buy. Such is capitalist "freedom".

Struggle against new bosses
Workers who were out in the streets last year to bring down the Honecker dictatorship are now having to struggle against their new bosses. Workers in the East German shoe and leather industry have called nationwide token strikes to draw attention to their plight. More than half a million jobs are at stake in that industry and all that "liberation" offers them is a future job in a hotel or a bank.

The striking workers will be defeated. The hypocritical German capitalists, who showed such theatrical concern for their struggle when it was fought against the old state-capitalist elite, could not care less what becomes of the workers now that they have their grubby hands on the united German shoe industry. At the end of last year the German press was celebrating the struggle for freedom being waged by the newly-formed Free Federation of German Trades Unions, an umbrella organisation of East German non-state unions. The same union called for an increase in net pay of 50 percent as from 1 July this year. The same newspapers who were cheering them on less than a year ago are now denouncing their "impertinent" demands.

The East German workers were right to overthrow the anti-democratic state- capitalist dictatorship of the Communist Party. They were more than right: they were heroic in taking on a force which we now know was planning to put down the rebel workers in the same way as the Chinese dictators did at Tiananmen Square. But the victory of last winter was a battle won. not a war ended. The East German workers had better realise that the owners of the Earth, be they private or state capitalists, Eastern or Western, will oppress and exploit them until they are dispossessed of their ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. The class war goes on. Experience will teach this to the East German workers—as it did to the many Polish workers who recently organised a massive rail strike against their new oppressors in the Solidarity government—but a period of temporary enchantment with the wonders of the illusory free market is bound to occur.

Housing crisis
East German wage slaves who have voted to be led by Kohl and his team of market-lovers. and the other workers conned by the reformist promise of welfare capitalism offered by the SPD, need only peep over the border to Hamburg where their fellow workers, long-standing members of a "free" capitalist nation, face a major housing crisis.

The Hamburg Abendblat (27 April) reports that rents in Hamburg have increased from early 1989 to early 1990 by an average of 33 percent. This figure is second only to Stuttgart where the rent per square metre has gone up 39 percent in the past year. The German housing problem has led to widespread opposition to the granting of housing to East German workers wanting to settle in the more prosperous Western sector. So. after years of waiting for the Wall to come down. East German workers are now being told not to compete with their Western counterparts for cheap or subsidised housing. The new Wall is made of poverty and fear.

The Guardian (27 July) referred to the West German housing crisis as “a political battlefield . . . a social scandal in a land of conspicuous prosperity: the squeezing out of the housing market of tens—perhaps hundreds—of thousands of citizens". The West German Housing Minister. Gerda Hasselfedt, estimates that one in four East German homes are “uninhabitable" and three in four “need to be totally renovated". If new homes are not to be built, and old ones improved, by the state, then who will take on the task?

Private property developers and landlords certainly have no interest to gain in building houses and doing up old ones for the benefit of poor people. On the contrary, with an excess of supply over demand their economic interest is to push up the rents and interest rates on mortgages. As ever, the housing problem is not about an inability to produce houses—last year there was a 14.7 percent increase in German house-building, mainly at the more expensive end of the market. It is about the inability of workers who need homes to pay for them at prices that will bring profits to capitalists.

The housing crisis has also given rise to a wave of anti-immigrant feeling amongst the least enlightened workers. Where Turkish “guest workers" were once tolerated, German racists are saying that that it is bad enough having to compete with other Germans without having to put up with "foreigners". In the riotous celebrations following the German football victory in the World Cup:
East Berlin and Hamburg . . . witnessed bloody battles between police and young right-wing extremists, as well as attacks on Vietnamese, Turks and other foreigners . . . In Cologne a group set on a young Turkish taxi driver trapped in the delirious crowd, trying to overturn his car and lynch him. Police again used tear gas and batons to help him escape . . . (Guardian, 10 July).
The government has responded to this rise in racist insecurity by passing an Aliens Law which is designed to frighten away non-German workers wanting to settle there.

Germany is set to be the new European superpower. If you have millions of Deutschmarks invested in the Bundesbank you may be in for some sharp rises in profits. But most readers of this journal do not. Neither do the West German workers struggling to pay high rents. The hundreds of thousands of East Germans who are being thrown on the scrap heap of the unemployed do not. Nor do those who will have to face cuts in German welfare services which will have to be made so that taxes can be kept down so that German capitalists have money to invest in the East. In East Germany the circus is closing down and the lions are being given a fatal jab; for the wage slaves of Germany the future offers little in the way of either bread or circuses.
Steve Coleman

Workers' Paradise (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Out of the 1600 essential goods supplied by the government, 1500 are in short supply. If prices rise two or three times, as they are expected to do, you can imagine what will happen to the 80 per cent of the population who are close to the poverty line". 
- Gennady Yanayev, leader of the official Soviet trade unions. (Times, 30 June).

Contradictions of capitalism (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Defenders of the capitalist class, noticeably those from the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, have recently been rather vocal in claiming that commodity production—buying and selling and the market—represent the climax of human economic development and in asserting the uselessness of anyone seeking to establish an alternative social system.

This confident bravado coincides with the collapse of state capitalist dictatorships in central Europe. Confusing nationalisation and state planning with socialism, these ideologists present capitalism, particularly the private form they favour, as a “rational” system effortlessly drifting towards some kind of free market Utopia in which every facet of the social world will be reduced to a commodity relationship. Some even suggest that governments and their economic advisers possess the necessary management skills to avert economic problems, while politicians, journalists and academics tell us in unison to be satisfied with our lot and to realise we are living in the best of all possible worlds.

This form of blinkered conservatism miserably fails to understand the workings of capitalism and the array of contradictions to be found within commodity production and distribution.

Economic crises
Despite the political rhetoric, for the governments and the economists who frame their policy documents there remains the uncomfortable fact that the economic and social problems which are features of capitalism cannot simply be wished away. Take for example economic crises and trade depressions which express all the contradictions of commodity production and highlight the anarchy of a system whose sole aim is to produce commodities for a profit.

It was Marx who discovered that crises spring from the very character of capitalism itself. Capitalism produces commodities which have to be exchanged to realise the profit embodied in them and the medium of exchange is money. Yet in this transaction there is an implicit contradiction which Marx expressed in the following way:
No one can sell unless some one else purchases. But no one is forthwith bound to purchase because he has just sold.(Capital. Vol I. chapter 3. section 2a).
Any break in this commodity chain of buying and selling will result in a crisis in which:
The spinner cannot pay because the weaver cannot pay: both of them do not pay the machine manufacturer who does not pay the iron, timber and coal merchant. All these again cannot meet their obligations as they have not realised the value of their commodities . . . and a general crisis thus arises. (Theories of Surplus Value, vol.III pt 2 pp 284-285).
Marx's theoretical explanation of the irrationality and unpredictability of capitalism, and of its crises, small and large, national or global, has been verified empirically, not only during his life-time but afterwards too. We only have to think back to the crisis and resultant trade depression at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s to see the vindication of Marx over the dreary academic economists and their theories of capitalism as a smooth-running rational system.

Profit before Need
There is currently a slump in the housebuilding industry. Before the crisis there was a feverish boom, with developers building as fast as they could acquire land. Workers within the building industry or related to it were able to gain higher wages, estate agents were snapped up by large corporations with many trading seven days a week, while the Sunday Supplements predicted the boom would last forever.

Then the break in the chain occurred between those buying houses and those selling them. Suddenly developers found they had unsold houses on their hands with interest repayments still outstanding to the banks. Some went bankrupt bringing unemployment and disruption to the lives of their employees. Contractors and building workers found work evaporating, while materials began to stockpile and large distribution companies began to lay off workers. The government and their economic advisers were neither able to predict the depression in house-building nor do anything about it once it had occurred.

This is a classic example of the way under capitalism a contradiction develops between production for profit and social need. Because of the inability to sell houses and realise a profit, house-building is stopped or cut-back while the needs of people for housing are passed over and remain unfulfilled.

This contradiction under capitalism between production for profit and social need takes place in other spheres of commodity production too. Peter Buchanan's 'Open Space' (BBC2 29 May) recently exposed the lie of the consumer fantasy world of the advertisers—the stick which beats the bucket of swill—by showing us homeless men in Cambridge being driven off a skip full of out-of-date supermarket food. There is also capitalism's complete indifference to the needs of 1.8 billion children under the age of 16 in the world to-day. According to a recent report, 61,000 children under the age of 5 die every day in the extreme poverty-stricken areas of the world as a result of preventable diarrhoeal diseases most of which are caused by poor water (Guardian, 25 March). In a rational society producing directly for social need this problem could easily be dealt with through the use of existing technology and of the skills of people working in the field of sanitation engineering. But we don't exist in a rational society: capitalism is perverse and indifferent to anything but the making of profit.

Despite the well-meaning but totally misplaced and ineffective effort of people in charities, the problem of starvation exists side by side with food mountains and deliberate underproduction. Farmers are paid subsidies not to produce and agricultural land is taken out of production to ensure profits are maintained. It would only be someone with a profitable interest in capitalism or someone who had been bought by the capitalist class to produce ruling-class ideas who could ever depict capitalism as "rational" or as a society representing the best of all possible worlds.

To rectify the problems, both social and economic, which affect workers today throughout the world, capitalism has to be abolished and replaced by socialism. To create this new social system of common ownership and democratic control over the means to life in which these problems can be solved and the needs of society met, requires conscious political action by a working class majority. No one else can do it for us. Until we take the necessary steps to capture political power then economic depressions, unemployment poverty and unfulfilled needs will continue: to borrow a phrase from one of Mrs Thatcher s speech writers, "There is no alternative".
Richard Lloyd

50 Years Ago: An Offence to Destroy
 Food—But only in
 War-Time (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reviving a practice adopted during the last war. the Government has issued an order under which it is an offence to waste food. Heavy penalties, up to two years' imprisonment and a £500 fine, may be imposed on persons who wilfully or negligently damage or throw away anything "used by man for food or drink other than water", water being already covered by bye-laws.

This seems all very reasonable. What could be more natural than that it should be illegal to destroy or waste food when there are human beings in need of it. But observe. The order to this effect introduced in the last war ceased when the war ended. No authorities stepped in to fine and imprison the individuals and companies responsible for destroying wheat and coffee, throwing fish back into the sea, feeding milk to pigs, and so on. Indeed, in some countries the destruction of foodstuffs to keep up prices was organised with the active support of State authorities themselves.

There is, indeed, something very unnatural about the social system that permitted such things.

[From an editorial in the Socialist Standard, September 1940.]