Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Notes by the Way: Labour Party Chairman on Tory Nationalisation (1949)

The Notes by the Way Column from the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Party Chairman on Tory Nationalisation

Mr. Maurice Webb, M.P., Chairman of the Labour Party, is on his way from Canada to U.S.A. to answer “gross misrepresentations” about the Labour Government. Before he left he gave an interview to reporters: 
“ Much of the misinformation being spread in the United States is done by British people and they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They blame all Britain’s troubles on Socialism, forgetting that only about 20 per cent, of the economy has been nationalised and the rest is private enterprise. And about 12 per cent. of the 20 per cent. was initiated by the previous Government.” (Manchester Guardian, September 10th, 1949.)
While he is clearing up misrepresentations he might start with himself and stop calling Nationalisation “Socialism.”

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Can Yon live on 92s. 6d. a Week?

The Conciliation Board has rejected the railwaymen’s claim for a 10s. increase, also rejected the contention that 92s. 6d. a week is too little to live on.
“The Board cannot accept the contention that earnings, as apart from rates, should be excluded when assessing the adequacy of basic rates, nor is it satisfied that the minimum rate of 92s. 6d. is below the figure necessary to maintain the minimum standard of human needs.” (Times, September 9th, 1949.) 
It has been estimated by the Oxford University Institute of Statistics (“Bulletin,” July-August, 1949) that working-class cost of living has increased by 79 per cent. since before the war. If we make allowance for this increase of prices a present wage of 92s. 6d. is equal to a pre-war wage of about 51s. 8d. Actually the minimum wage fixed for porters in October, 1939, was 47s., 48s., or 50s., according to area, but the Railway Union complained that it was much too low, and no Trade Union official or Labour Leader would have defended 51s. 8d. a week.

Yet after nationalisation and four years of Labour Government a present minimum wage, which will buy no more than 51s. 8d. bought before the war, is defended as adequate by the Conciliation Board!

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Is There a Shortage of Money?

The following needs no comment: —
“Application lists for the £6,500,000 offer of shares in W. H. Smith & Son (Holdings), the newsagents and booksellers, were open for only five minutes in the City yesterday morning. Even before the lists opened at 10 a.m. the brokers handling the issue had received applications from the public covering the amount offered by a large margin.

“By yesterday evening, although the count had not been completed, the public’s response was estimated at over £20 million.” (Daily Telegraph. September 2nd, 1949.)
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Mr. Morrison’s Duty to his Country

At a press conference in Strasbourg on August 26th Mr. Herbert Morrison uttered a few words “before leaving for a three-week holiday in the South of France.” This is what he said:—
“ It is my duty to my country to get a holiday. It is merely an elementary duty of public service.” (Manchester Guardian, August 27th, 1949.)
The comment of the Guardian's Diplomatic Correspondent is, “ No one doubted it, but why so pompous about it?”

If a miner thought that it was his duty or pleasure and if he had the money to go to the South of France for three weeks, he would be charged with inexcusable absenteeism.

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Production and Consumption, by Sir Stafford Cripps

In a speech at Washington, Sir Stafford Cripps gave the following information about production and consumption in Great Britain:—
“Industrial production in Britain is to-day at an all-time high, about 25 per cent. above the immediate pre-war level. Industrial productivity is rising steadily. In the first half of 1949 output per man was 4 to 5 per cent. higher than a year earlier and well above the pre-war figure. The average working week to-day is just over 45 hours. The volume of exports in the first half of this year was 51 per cent. greater than in 1938, the volume of imports 15 per cent. less. . . . In spite of the great increase in production, personal consumption has risen by only 4 per cent. over the past three years. The reason is that the extra output has been used partly to boost exports, partly to support the largest capital investment programme in our history which is currently absorbing more than one-fifth of the whole national output.” (Manchester Guardian, September 10th, 1949.)
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“ Nobody Knew the Difference ”

Some American politicians affect to believe that Britain has been revolutionised by the Labour Government’s nationalisation schemes, though they are not all so ill-informed. Mr. Hoffman, Marshall Plan Administrator, speaking at a Press Conference in Washington on August 29th was asked about this, and replied:—
“The coal mines in Britain were no better and no worse for having been nationalised. The same was true of the railways, and though the Bank of England was also nationalised, nobody knew the difference. (Times, August 30th, 1949.)
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The German Elections

The general election in Western Germany, held in the middle of August, made the Social Democrats the second largest party in the new Parliament with 131 seats out of 402. Their total vote, 6,932,000, represented 33 per cent. of the votes as against 35 per cent. given to the Christian Democratic Union and 13 per cent given to the next largest party, the Free Democratic Union. The new Government is a coalition dominated by the Christian Democratic Union.

The results are an answer to those who thought that with the disappearance of the Hitler Dictatorship the electorate would give their votes to the Social Democrats, a party much like the British Labour Party.

The German Social Democrats, in spite of their reformist and strongly nationalist programme and policy designed to capture all sections of the population (except those who stand for Socialism), are thus shown to have made little headway. Their voting strength compares unfavourably with what it was 30 and more years ago. As long ago as 1912 they received 35 per cent. of the votes (“Labour Year Book,” 1916, P. 411). Then at the elections in January, 1919, after the setting up of the Republic, the Social Democrats were by far the largest party with nearly 40 per cent. of the votes (45 per cent. if the "Independent Socialists” are added), and remained the largest party until 1932. Their vote had, however, been falling and at the 1930 election was down to 25 per cent. of the total.

The Communists, who in 1930 obtained 13 per cent. of the votes, fared badly in the elections in August last, receiving 1,360,000 votes, about 4 per cent of the total.

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The Faith of a “Christian Communist"

In accordance with the policy of getting the support of anyone no matter what his understanding of Socialism may be, the Communist Party accepts into its ranks people whose religious beliefs are quite incompatible with Marxism and with the views expressed by Lenin.

The following are extracts from an article,44 Why I Became a Communist,” by the Reverend W. E. Allen, published in the Daily Worker (August 31st, 1949): —
“ In the three years I have been a member of the Communist Party I have found in the fellowship of the local branch a comradeship, a sense of service to the people, and an intellectual honesty which I feel are truly Christian.”

"What Jesus expressed in religious symbols, Marx saw in scientific terms. Communism has much to give Christianity, and Christianity much to give Communism.”
It is odd that the Rev. W. E. Allen should find "intellectual honesty” in the Communist Party. In three years of membership and in his reading of Marx, which, he says, benefited his understanding, he must surely by now have discovered that the Communists are professed accepters of the materialist conception of history and he can hardly have escaped coming across their former use of the phrase from Marx: "Religion is the opium of the people.”

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Communists Who Live in Glasshouses

The Daily Worker (August 19th, 1949) finds it very diverting that an American critic of the Labour Government should accuse them of aiming to "equalise incomes so that everybody will be approximately on the same financial level.”

The Worker says: —
“This is not only ‘news’ for Americans. Workers in Britain’s nationalised industries contemplating the salaries of the heads of the nationalised boards will find it strange, exciting and untrue.”
Bu who are the Communists to throw stones at the Labour Government? True the latter have forgotten their old advocacy of equality of incomes, but what about the Russian workers who can contrast the high salaries and incomes from investment in State bonds in Russia, with Lenin's declaration that as soon as they got power the Communists in Russia would likewise bring all incomes to approximately the level of pay of the workers?

Very appropriately at this moment comes the statement of one of the admirers of Russia, Professor Bernal. He visited Russia again last month, 15 years after ah earlier trip, and on his return he commented: "How they have changed! The standard of living of the better-paid workers is higher than here. The shops are filled and there are no queues.” (Daily Express, November 10th, 1949.)

We are asked to admire “Socialist” Russia because the "higher paid workers,” not the workers as a whole, are better off than are workers in capitalist Britain!

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A Labour Prophet has a Fall

At the Labour Party Conference in May, 1940, when the Labour Party decided to enter the Churchill Government, Mr. Arthur Greenwood, M.P., made a prophecy about the outcome of the war:—
"We shall have a trembling capitalist system which can never recover again. We shall have broken the back of the vested interests, and we can build a socialist commonwealth which will be a powerful factor in the world.” (Daily Herald, May 14th, 1940.)
On the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of war Mr. Greenwood gave a message to the Daily Mail (September 3rd, 1949) which included the following: — 
“This peace has not yet been won, and Britain’s effort to-day must be directed towards the fullest use of all human and material resources, so as to play our part in the reshaping of the whole world.”
British Capitalism is indeed in a bad way, but what the Labour Government is now doing is to direct all their efforts to trying to put it on its feet again while urging the workers to refrain from making demands that would stand in the way of British capitalist recovery. The Labour Party’s latest pronouncement of policy is appropriately called "Labour Believes in Britain,” not “ Labour Believes in Socialism.”

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Why no Celebration?

By a curious oversight the Daily Worker on August 23rd, 1949, forgot to celebrate a great occasion in Communist Party history; yet when the event occurred ten years ago they claimed that it was a "Victory for Peace and Socialism.” (Daily Worker, August 23rd, 1939.) The event in question was the Pact of Friendship between Stalin and Hitler. Can it be that they now wish to forget that "Socialist” victory?

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Education and the Standard Oil Co. of America

"The Lamp,” a periodical published by the Standard Oil Co. (New Jersey), U.S.A., reproduced in its issue for November, 1947, an address by Frank W. Abrams, Chairman of the Board of Directors, on "The Stake of Business in American Education.” Some of the points made by him are interesting as indicating how big business regards education. His first main point is that the better educated the population are the more they earn and therefore the more money they have to spend on such things as books, newspapers, houses, and, of course, motor cars. His next point was that education increases the workers’ output—"business depends upon education not only to provide more profitable markets but to provide more productive manpower.”
"As every foreman knows, a worker who has had some practice in learning at school usually turns out to be better at learning in a factory. He catches on more quickly not only to the how of his job, but the why of it. His training takes less time. He has a quicker and better grasp of problems and ideas. He is more apt to think about what he is doing and to come up with useful suggestions concerning it. If he has gone through college, he has had an opportunity to acquire the broader perspective and the capacity to think in terms of ideas and trends, which are indispensable in the higher management levels.”

"If business and industry could not draw upon a large reservoir of educated man-power, they would be handicapped in every phase of their operations. American education does a job for business and industry. If our hope of an advancing American economy involves reducing costs, increasing individual productivity, and devising better ways of doing things, we must consider that we have a major interest in helping American education and educators in their work.”
On the financial side he mentions that "many corporations underwrite the expense of research projects in college and university laboratories which they feel will be valuable to their operations. Others grant scholarships.”

He thinks, however, that more should be done in the direction of providing money for endowed educational institutions.

Mr. Abrams also thinks that education makes for political security for the existing social system.
"The experts in this field are convinced that education produces not only a difference in the volume of opinion, but also a difference in the kind of opinion. People with information are inclined to have moderate opinions, whereas those without information are apt to be extremists.”
Of course it all depends on the kind of information. What Mr. Abrams is saying to his fellow big business men is that if they put up the money they can influence the kind of information supplied by the educational institutions and thus help to make America safe for Capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Party News Briefs (1949)

Party News from the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glasgow Branch is getting into its pre-election stride. Vote catching has been commenced by the Parliamentary hopefuls, and Glasgovians are feeling the urge to attend political meetings. Glasgow Branch is catering for this urge in a big way. There are two outdoor platforms on the go, and literature sales are steadily increasing. A speakers’ class, held during the winter months, has borne fruit and the branch now has another half dozen young and enthusiastic speakers who are more than able to deal with any opposition. Plans are well advanced for what appears will be the most active winter season that Glasgow has yet experienced. These plans include a venture to prove that Socialists are indeed sociable. Details will be published in The Socialist Standard at a later date. The branch meetings are well attended and a high standard of discussion is maintained. A discussion is held, after routine branch business, to which all workers are invited. Any reader of The Socialist Standard in Glasgow should pay a visit to the Workers’ Open Forum in Renfrew Street any Wednesday evening. Glasgow members extend a cordial invitation to all to visit their meetings.

A Dance Band must be hired whenever we hold an evening social and dance. Although our social affairs are never a financial loss these days, we might still save a few pounds for other projects if we could produce our own music. There must be quite a number of members and friends who are capable instrumentalists. If we can only get them together, there is no reason why a good dance band for our own use should not be formed. The Social Committee will welcome information on this matter. If you can play any instrument please write to Head Office to let the committee know.

Motor Cyclists also take note. We have received suggestions that we should form a motor cyclists’ group with the object of arranging day or week-end runs to provincial towns where propaganda meetings can be held. The rationing of petrol will prevent any ambitious schemes at the moment, but it may be useful if members who have motor cycles get together to talk over the proposition with a view to setting up some sort of organisation before next spring. Will those who are interested send their name and address to W. Waters at Head Office.

Kingston Branch has continued the meetings at Castle Street, Kingston, with the same success as during the previous season. The Communist Party, which attempted a series of opposition meetings during the 1948 season, has not put in an appearance this year. The most noticeable opposition has come from young Conservatives, but it has been of very poor calibre. With the approach of the shorter and colder evenings, those who have attended the meetings at Castle Street are invited to come and sit by the fire in the Kingston Branch room at 9, Vicarage Road, Kingston, to continue the discussions that have been held from the outdoor platform. The entrance to the branch room is in Wood Street, opposite Bentall’s store, and meetings are on Thursday evenings at 8 o’clock.

Dublin Branch of the Socialist Party of Ireland is meeting with many difficulties and much hostile opposition from various quarters. We reported in the August issue of The Socialist Standard how the Dublin comrades’ meeting on July 3rd had to be discontinued owing to a hostile dement in the audience and to the failure of the police to intervene until a serious breach of the peace was threatened. The following extracts are from The Irish Democrat, published in London by the Connolly Association, and which is obviously Communist controlled. (August, 1949, issue.) “Belts and knuckledusters were used by bands of organised hooligans who marched six abreast to break up the Irish Workers’ League weekly meeting in O’Connell Street on the 17th July.” (Page 1.) “On Sunday, July 24th, a crowd some thousands strong gathered in Abbey Street hoping to see a repeat performance, but no meeting was held . . . ” “Little known aspect of the pogrom background is the work of a handful of Dublin Trotskyites who held a meeting at Abbey Street on July 3rd, which was broken up.” "It is believed that the reactionary elements which attacked the Workers’ League would not have been successful in drawing together their forces if it had not been for the precedent set by these obscure but pernicious political elements.”

The Irish Workers’ League is the organisation in which the Irish communists work, it is, in fact, a Communist organisation, although this is frequently denied. The “Trotskyites” referred to are, of course, our Dublin Comrades. This accusation by The Irish Democrat fails to take into account that the Irish Communists have been attacked in a similar manner before July 17th of this year, before there was a Dublin Branch of the S.P.I., before there was even a Dublin Socialist Group. The Dublin Headquarters of the Irish C.P. were once burned down in one of these disturbances. The argument presupposes that if the Dublin Socialists had not held their meeting on July 3rd, then the future Workers’ League meetings would have been peaceful. Which is nonsense. A Dublin comrade writes: —
“Actually, what is grieving them (the Communists) is the fact that we stole whatever thunder they may have possessed. We came out as revolutionaries, with the red lettering on a white background of our platform reading ‘ Socialist Party of Ireland.’ That’s what got them. They—the Marxists, the dialecticians, the tacticians!! Tactics! Trying to hide under an alias—and sending condolences to the Bulgarian C.P. on the death of Dimitrov! With known Communists like Nolan, O’Riordan, etc., in their ranks, yet trying to maintain that they are not the Communist Party! Why, these people were smelt out long ago, before we held our outdoor meeting, long before.”
As for the “obscure but pernicious political elements.” It’s amusing. Our Comrade Cullen has been propagating Socialism in Ireland for 40 years and is known to everybody who has political connections with the Irish Workers. And “pernicious.” On at least three occasions, the secretary of the Dublin Branch S.P.I. and other members went to see J. Nolan, secretary of the Workers' League, at bis bookshop in Pearce Street to try to arrange an amicable agreement re the allocation of dates for the meetings of each organisation at what appears to be the only official meeting spot in Dublin. But no! They were going to lead the revolution. They were the only revolutionaries. So they have only themselves to blame. The tragedy is that there is now much talk in official circles, including Dail Eireann, about banning public meetings. In the Sunday Independent (Ireland) a printer asks the editor to publicise a statement that no more Communist literature will be printed at his works, “in response to numerous requests.” That will probably raise another problem for our Irish comrades when their manifesto, which is almost completed, is ready for print. Anyway, they are getting ready for a winter campaign. They have arranged a series of lectures the first four of which will be addressed by Comrades Walsh, Fahy, Lynch and Courtney in that order. Further details will appear in the Dublin Mail, editor permitting.

The Week-end Summer School and the Autumn Delegate Meeting will be reported in the next issue.

Our General Secretary, Comrade C. C. Groves has given notice of his intention to resign from that post on the grounds of ill-health. Comrade Groves has held the post of General Secretary for seven years. We are sorry to lose his services, and hope he will soon be well enough to resume them.

Leyton Branch lectures held each second and fourth Monday each month continue to go well, with increasing attendance of members and visitors. The new station opened at “ Elms,” Leytonstone, early this season, is now established, and meetings have been held every Saturday during the propaganda season.
W. Waters

SPGB Meetings (1949)

Party News from the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Världssocialism Journal (1970-78)

I'm a bit annoyed with myself that I didn't spot this before now.

Via the Marxist Internet Archive, the full run of the 16 issues of the Swedish language journal, Världssocialism: Tidskrift för vetenskaplig socialism, which roughly translates as World Socialism: Journal of Scientific Socialism.

I can't just leave it there, so here's the first article/editorial from the first issue. Google translate is your friend.

Bara en rysk revolutionär

De som läser Marx och Lenin kan inte undgå att upptäcka en del olikheter mellan dessa båda revolutionära tänkares synsätt. Det är dock få som inser hela naturen och vidden av skillnaderna mellan Lenins synsätt och Marx'.

Nu, då Ryssland uppenbart bara är en av många kapitalistiska och imperialistiska stater, har den förlorat det mesta av det som tidigare drog många förvirrade samhällskritiker till den. Tendensen är dock att man skyller på Stalin (eller Chrustjev) för att ha förvrängt marxismen och förvandlat den till en härskande statskapitalistisk klass' ideologi. Lenin betraktas oftast som en genuin marxist. Att han inte var det ska vi försöka visa i några artiklar.

Lenin och Bolsjevikpartiet som han ledde talade onekligen ett marxistiskt språk och försökte rättfärdiga sin politik med marxistiska termer. Detta fordrar en del förklaringar utgående från den materialistiska historieuppfattningen.

Kapitalismen i Ryssland, som började utvecklas i slutet av förra århundradet, hade sina egna speciella drag. Kapitalisterna där var svaga och beroende av dels Tsaren, dels utländska investeringar. Resultatet var att de blev politiskt isolerade och inkapabla att leda en revolution mot tsarismen, som var nödvändig för en full kapitalistisk utveckling i Ryssland. Uppgiften att besegra Tsaren i en borgerlig revolution föll därför i andra händer, intelligentians, en social grupp speciell för Ryssland som utgjordes av de universitetsutbildade.

Kampen mot tsarismen och dess teori, startades av en del av denna intelligentia. Med tanke på de ryska kapitalisternas svaghet och feghet var det inte förvånande att dessa revolutionärer kom att attraheras av anti-kapitalistiska idéer. Den största delen av dem - även om de inte utgav sig för att vara marxister - såg sig själva som socialister. Senare var det några, bl.a. Lenin, som plockade upp några av Marx idéer, men det betydde fortfarande inte att de tjänade arbetarklassens intressen.

Lenin's teori om elitpartiet - hans mest notoriska snedsteg från Marx, där han säger att revolutionen bara kan nås genom att ett elitparti med professionella revolutionärer leder de missnöjda massorna - var direkt hämtad från den ryska revolutionära traditionen.

Det är sant att Marx började sin politiska bana som den sortens gammalmodiga revolutionära demokrat, men han insåg snart att den socialistiska revolutionen måste skilja sig radikalt från de tidigare borgerliga, därför att den måste bli den första revolutionen som genomförs av en majoritet, medveten om sina intressen. Marx förkastade teorin om självutnämnda "befriare" som skulle leda massan av obildade människor till frihet. Lenin avancerade inte långt förbi de gamla teorierna. Han påminde såväl i sin teori som i sin praktik om en borgerlig eller kapitalistisk revolutionär. I själva verket var det för att Ryssland i början av det här århundradet var moget för en sådan revolution, som hans idéer hade någon som helst politisk och social betydelse.

Stalin förvrängde verkligen marxismen till en konservativ, statskapitalistisk härskande klass ideologi, men han byggde framförallt på Lenins tidigare förvrängningar av marxismen.

Lenin var bara en rysk revolutionär medan Marx var en revolutionär socialist. Detta är den stora skillnaden mellan dem.

At Home and Abroad . . . (1972)

The Home and Abroad Column from the October 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Review September 72

At Home

There are signs that the government is preparing to retreat from its previous entrenched position on wages. If this happens it will need careful handling as far as publicity goes, which may explain the heavy caution with which the recent talks between the unions, employers and the government were treated. When they came into power Heath’s government were quite positive that they had the solution to the economic problems which have plagued British capitalism since the war. The unions, they said, must be brought to heel; in future they would be met head on in any industrial dispute. There would also be a special Act which would in effect weaken the unions’ bargaining powers. At the same time prices would, in some mysterious way which has eluded all other governments, be held in control. The promised result of this would be a steady rise in prosperity for everyone. In fact what the Tories were concerned about, as any capitalist government would be, was basically wages and the level of capital investment in British industry, which were affecting the competitive power of British goods on the world market. Every government since the war has come in with promises to tackle these problems and they have all had apparently simple solutions. Every one has had "new” ideas and policies; Wilson’s government, for example, had the Prices and Incomes Board and the Declaration of Intent from the employers and the unions. Who remembers them now? Every government, faced with the day to day realities of capitalism, has been compelled to change its line and to abandon the programme it put forward at the election, while the problem continued as bad as ever. Heath’s had the brief period of open conflict, as he promised and he has the Industrial Relations Act. Some workers have been gaoled, a union has had a massive fine. But British capitalism could not have carried on for long like that; it makes more sense, economically and politically, for the Tories to change their policy. To repeal the Industrial Relations Act would be too obvious a signal of defeat but there will probably be other signs in the near future of the government’s surrender to the intractability of capitalism’s chaos.


Since it has never happened before, the killing of the Israeli Olympic athletes helped foster the idea that we are living in times of special cruelty and disarray, and that guerrilla tactics are something of an innovation. It needs only a little effort to recall many examples of similar tactics, sometimes by small bands of killers and sometimes by larger, more organised groups. If the Arabs showed great courage in their raid, it was not the first time that bravery has been used to murderous ends. Capitalist states are always organising the courage of their peoples in a massive effort of destruction. At such times they use any weapon they can, including that of the ultimatum. The famous demand for unconditional surrender in the last war was no more than a threat to murder and destroy on a savage scale, if the other side did not give way — and it was a threat which the Allies carried out. The men who plan and implement such ultimata are not called terrorists and murderers but there is nothing to choose between them and the men who did the killing at Munich, or indeed those Israeli nationalists who waged so ruthless a guerrilla campaign against British occupation in the years after the war. Capitalism is a mass of conflict, springing from the competing economic interests of many rival groups both national and international. In one way or another, force is always applied in these conflicts and capitalism continually conditions its people to accept the use of force, often of a terrifying scale and intensity. The Arabs at Munich acted as they have been conditioned to. The outcome of violence is never pleasant, whether it is eleven dead bodies at Munich or a hundred thousand at Hiroshima. But if the working class are not clear on the issue, if their ideas on it are confused by the illogicalities and the violence of nationalism, they can have no hope of ending a victory of which bloodshed is so integral a part.


When the Monday Club meet to protest against the Ugandan Asians, they thunder that the immigrants are being allowed in against the wishes of the people of this country. When Wedgewood Bonn talks about British capitalism’s entry of the Common Market, he whines that the voice of the people should be heard on the issue, in a referendum. We do not need to be too perceptive to realise that concern for a democratic society emerges only when policies are being pushed through which the speaker opposes. Tory M.P. Soref supports a government which, like the one of which Benn was a member, has imposed plenty of measures without asking what the majority of people thought or wanted. Democracy is a word for capitalist politicians to play with and to use if they see advantage in doing so. In fact capitalism cannot be a democratic society; it cannot take its people into its confidence, cannot make all its information freely available, cannot run itself as the majority wants, cannot involve everyone in the decision taking from top to bottom. Soref is no more interested in making available full information about race, about housing, population, social services and so on than Benn is in telling us everything about the economy of capitalism. Democracy needs knowledge and when the working class have that there will be no more capitalism with its irrelevant issues and politicians to exploit them.

Labour's programme for capitalism (1972)

From the October 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many Labour activists were thoroughly disillusioned by the record of the 1964-70 Wilson government. Some became inactive, others even resigned from the Labour Party, and fewer newcomers were recruited to take their place. This loss of activist support has disturbed the parliamentary leaders of the Party because these are the people they rely on to gather in the votes at election times. Without them the Labour Party is in trouble, but the activists are not going to work hard for the parliamentary leaders unless they are reasonably satisfied with the policy and practice of those leaders. Of this the leaders are fully aware. Which is why soon after their defeat in the June 1970 General Election they took steps to “involve” the Party’s activists in policy-making. What reforms would you like to see Labour make? the activists were asked. Their answers, carefully edited by the Labour leaders, are published in the document Labour's Programme for Britain presented to this year’s Party Conference.

The document begins with the ridiculous claim, “We are a democratic Socialist Party and proud of it,” and goes on to give a familiar list of reforms long-promised by Labour: planning, price controls, pro-union laws, a wealth tax, no health charges, abolition of public schools, more houses, cheap food, etc., etc. Nevertheless it is probably an accurate guide to what the activist wants to see done. Indeed it was the last Labour government’s failure to do many of these things that disillusioned them in the first place.

The leaders are careful not to commit themselves to implementing everything in the document. Some of the reforms, they say, could not be implemented in a five-year term of office, while there may not be enough resources to implement others. The document, they repeatedly emphasise, is merely a list of desirable social reforms; in time for the next general election the leaders will choose which of these reforms are to go into the Party’s manifesto; and a future Labour government will decide, in the light of existing economic circumstances, when (and if) those in the manifesto should be implemented. In other words, as in the past, the Labour leaders are to be given a free hand by their members to run capitalism in the way economic circumstances may dictate.

For, both in theory and practice, the Labour Party has always been fully committed to capitalism. What it stands for is not Socialism, but State control of capitalism. At one time the aim of this State control was said to be the improvement of the conditions of the working class. There are still echoes of this in the document. But actual experience of running capitalism has led to a revision of this aim: it is now the steady and uninterrupted accumulation of capital. This change is nicely illustrated by the complaints in the document about the wasteful consumption of the rich. At one time the suggestion would have been that this would have been better consumed by the workers; now it is that it should have been invested productively.

But both these aims are unrealistic. Capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interest of the workers. Nor can it be planned so as to avoid booms and slumps or stops and gos as they are now called.

Labour v. Workers
Capitalism is an anarchic system subject to its own uncontrollable economic laws. Based on the ownership and control of the means of production by a minority class (the top ten per cent own three-quarters of the wealth of Britain despite four Labour governments, the document admits), the purpose of production is profit and the accumulation of capital out of profit. In order to keep going its products must be continually sold at a profit, in Britain’s case largely on the world market. For capitalism is an international system. The governments of all the various States into which the world is divided find their policies dictated by the workings of international capitalism, not by their own desires to improve living standards or plan growth.

This is what the last Labour government discovered. Elected in October 1964 they had to give immediate priority to a balance of payments crisis caused ultimately by the failure of British exports to sell well enough on the world market. In a bid to restore profitability to British capitalist industry, Labour Ministers were soon calling for wage restraint, seeing Communist agitators behind strikes and denouncing workers for not doing a full day’s work. In 1967 the pound had to be devalued and a legal wage freeze imposed. Anti-union laws were planned.

Reading between the lines of this document, the Labour leaders have learned the lesson of this last Labour government. This time they are not going to try to give priority to desirable social reforms or to increasing working class consumption. Priority is definitely to be given to creating what they themselves describe as an “internationally competitive economy” in Britain.

“The share of Britain’s resources devoted to investment”, they complain, “has been chronically low by international comparison”. They promise to remedy this. To keep industrial costs in Britain down they will aim to increase the re-investment of profits in new, more efficient productive equipment. For this they are prepared to allow British capitalist firms to make sufficient profits and to restrain (voluntarily of course) workers from gaining too large a share of these profits in the form of wage increases. Their policy is to be that the maximum amount of profit should be re-invested productively and not wasted in property speculation or in consumption by the idle rich—or by the workers. And, thanks to planning, a conflict between wages and profits is supposedly to be avoided:
Labour believes that there is scope in an expanding economy for rising money wages and, too, that rising wages and expanding profits for re-investment can co-exist.
Maybe in an expanding economy, but only for a while. For sooner or later the expansion phase of the business cycle will inevitably give way to the contraction phase, and what then? Wage restraint? Cuts in working-class consumption in order to restore profitability? This possibility is provided for too, for those who read the document carefully. Says an important reservation:
There will be times when any Government will need to take interim measures to regulate the purchasing power of consumers.
Which suggests that the Labour leaders themselves are not too confident about their ability to plan “sustained economic expansion”, “steady economic development”, “uninterrupted industrial expansion”, balanced economic development”, to record a few of the phrases they use to describe their utopia of permanent capitalist prosperity.

Prices & Profits
The second aspect of their policy for making Britain an “internationally competitive economy” (which, we repeat, must be their priority, not that after their experience between 1964 and 1970 they now bother to deny this) is yet another “attack” on “the scourge of inflation” because, the document explains, “if inflation is higher in Britain than elsewhere, our exports lose their ability to compete in foreign markets”. Labour is going to “attack” inflation not at its source—but one of its effects, rising prices. There will be, they promise, severe and legally enforced price restraint. Maybe, but not for long. For the effect of this, if rigidly enforced (which it won’t be of course, and for this very reason), would be to reduce profits. Since with the oversupply of money continuing so would the inflationary pressures. In these circumstances legal price restraint will be a miserable failure and, we predict, soon abandoned. Actually, here again the Labour leaders recognise that price restraint would threaten profits and so conflict with their other aim of encouraging productive investment:
In those cases where key prices have to be held down to a level which does not provide a level of profit adequate for re-investment, we shall consider the possibility of government investment to meet a firm’s capital needs.
Food prices are to be subsidised, as they were in the first post-war Labour government, in order to keep wages down.

Cartoon by Barltrop.
Futile Reform
Housing is one field in which the futility of legal price controls as a means of improving working class living standards has been demonstrated. For the effect of years of rent control was to make investment in private housing for letting relatively unprofitable. Investors tended to avoid this field and landlords to let their houses decay. The result was a worsening of housing conditions for many workers. Eventually Labour recognised this and allowed landlords to make bigger profits under their so-called fair rents legislation (Labour now gives the impression that this is a Tory scheme, but all the Tories have done is to extend it from private to council houses). At the same time they provided for landlords to be given grants to “improve” their property, the intention being to overcome the deterioration in housing conditions caused by rent control.

Landlords have certainly been taking up these grants, but not with a view to improving the housing of the poor. What many of them have been doing is to buy up this kind of housing, “improve” it and then or sell or let it to the better-off. The document complains about this:
There is evidence, however, that although the take-up rate for such grants is increasing, they are being used to a disquieting extent by property companies, converting and improving houses to sell at an unreasonable profit. They are also greatly used by people who are already well housed, but wish to improve a weekend cottage.
So capitalism has made a mockery of yet another of Labour’s reforms! As we have always said, reforming capitalism is ultimately futile as no sooner is one reform made than another is needed, as often as not as a result of the previous one.

Disillusioned Optimists
But trying to reform capitalism so as to benefit the working class is at best all Labour’s policy has ever amounted to. And it’s a futile policy since it seeks to do the impossible: make capitalism work against its own economic logic of production for profit and the profit-makers. Capitalism is a class system and can only function as a class system in the interest of the minority that owns and controls the means of production. Any Party that takes on the administration of capitalism, as Labour has done on four occasions so far and seeks to again, must sooner or later come into conflict with the interest of the working class whose consumption it must restrict in the interests of profitability. This has happened to every previous Labour government and will happen to any future ones.

Labour’s present activists must be a gullible lot if they believe their leaders’ promise that the next Labour government will somehow be different. But then it’s because they think there is some hope in the Labour Party that they are members. Which means they are due to be disillusioned yet again.
Adam Buick

The ABC of Inflation (1972)

From the October 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party and the Tory Party accuse each other of being responsible for the continuing rise of prices, but there is absolutely nothing to choose between the records of the two parties. Measured by the government’s own Retail Price Indexes, the Labour government 1945-51 scored a 28 per cent rise and the Labour government 1964-70 another 30 per cent (of the 1964 level); while the Tories marked up 50 per cent between 1951 and 1964 and another 17 per cent (of the 1970 level) between 1970 and June 1972. Added to the 32 per cent rise recorded between 1939 and 1945 under the National government (admitted to be an understatement), the present price level is at least four times what it was before the war.

In 1944 the three parties—Tory, Labour and Liberal—in the National government committed themselves to do what they could after the war “to stabilise prices”, and at each of the eight general elections Labour and Tories both repeated the promise —and it hasn’t meant a thing.

Individual prices can rise (or fall) for several different reasons. Good harvests will reduce prices and bad harvests will raise them. Booming trade increases demand and sends prices up, bad trade will send them down again. Even against the present trend of rising prices metal prices fell heavily last year as demand slackened off—the price of copper fell by 40 per cent. Improved methods of production, by reducing the amount of labour required, will operate to lower prices, while the exhaustion of easily accessible seams of mineral ores (coal and metals) will operate the other way because mining at greater depths or in less rich seams requires more labour to produce each ton.

During the nineteenth century when all of these price factors operated the general price levels in Britain went up in some periods and down in others, or remained nearly stationary, but the extent of the movement up and down was always within a range of about 25 per cent either way—nothing like the 300 per cent added since September 1939. Wages also rose and fell during the nineteenth century; sometimes in line with the movement of prices, sometimes by more or less, and occasionally wages moved in the opposite direction to prices.

All sorts of explanations have been offered for the abnormal rise of prices since 1939 as compared with the up-and-down movements of prices in the nineteenth century. Most of the so-called explanations take the form of blaming some group or other for being “greedy”; bankers, or manufacturers, or retailers or trade unionists. It is an explanation that a glance at certain facts will show to be nonsense. Did the copper companies reduce their prices by 40 per cent in 1971 because they had suddenly become less greedy? Between 1948 and 1968 prices rose by 100 per cent in Britain, but only by half that amount in America and Switzerland: are the British twice as greedy? In the nineteenth century did the whole population go through alternating phases of being more greedy and less greedy? Between the end of 1920 and the middle of 1933 prices fell by over 50 per cent. The fall was continuous for thirteen years. What had happened to greed?

The fact is that sellers always try to get as big a price as they can, “as much as the market will bear”, and if they can get more or are forced to take less it is because external circumstances over which they have little or no control determine that it shall be so.

Two popular beliefs are that prices go up because wages go up, or vice versa. It does not occur to those who hold one or the other view that wages are prices—the price the worker gets for the sale of his labour-power, his mental and physical energies, to the employer. So, properly stated, their two propositions become the single useless assertion that prices go up because prices go up.

If they re-stated it in the form that one group of prices (wages) go up because the other group of prices go up—or vice versa—they overlook the truth that both groups of prices go up because of common external factors which affect both of them, more or less to the same extent. To illustrate this we can note that in summers when more Londoners visit the country the harvests are good. Nobody asks whether it is the London visitors who make the corn ripen, or whether it is the ripened corn which attracts the visitors. It just happens that a long hot summer both produces the good harvest and attracts visitors to the country — the sun is the common cause of both.

Paper & Prices
The new factor which has operated to push up prices abnormally since the war—the “sun” in relation to prices and wages—has been the continuous and accelerating “depreciation of the currency”. In the nineteenth century the amount of notes and coin in circulation was controlled by the device, enforced by law, that the pound sterling was a fixed weight (about a quarter of an ounce) of gold, and Bank of England notes were always convertible on demand into the corresponding weight of gold. Nowadays the pound is an inconvertible paper currency and enormous additional amounts have been printed and put into circulation. In 1939 the total of notes and coin in the hands of the public was £454 million. It is now over £3,500 million and rising steadily, an amount far in excess of whatever increase would have been necessary in line with the actual increase in production and sales of goods.

Karl Marx, whose study of the subject has never been rivalled, enunciated the economic law in the form that if the amount of inconvertible paper currency exceeds the amount of gold that would be needed if gold coins circulated, the excess simply operates to push up prices. Before Keynesian doctrines were swallowed by most of the modern economists and politicians, this relationship between excess issues of inconvertible notes and the price level was generally accepted by economists (including Keynes). In 1919 the government deliberately put a stop to the issue of additional notes and this played a large part in the subsequent fall of prices. Now the political parties and the trade unions have deceived themselves, against all past experience, into the belief that what they call increasing “money supply” leads to greater production and the maintenance of “full employment”.

Facing Facts
Not quite all of the economists and financial authorities have swallowed the “new economics”. One exception is the First National City Bank of New York which, in its Monthly Bulletin for January 1970, ridiculed the notion that rising prices are due to greed or to the wage demands of trade unions :
“Most of the blame for inflation is misplaced. For although inflation has a hundred faces, it has but one essential cause : overly expansive and erratic monetary policy that has pushed up the quantity of money more swiftly than the quantity of goods and services.”        
Governments, even if they perceived the truth of this, are afraid to repeat the restrictive policy applied in 1919 because they think it might lead to a big depression and much heavier unemployment. The economist Lord Robbins, speaking in the House of Lords on 5th July, said:
“I know of no case in history where inflation of the order of magnitude of that from which we are now suffering has been stopped by measures of this sort without that sort of effect.”
The government’s view, according to Patrick Jenkin, Chief Secretary of the Treasury, is that while curbing the money supply would affect prices it would do so only after a considerable time lag: –  “The immediate effect would be increased unemployment and reduced output. As a solution, it was politically, wholly unacceptable”. (Financial Times 17 July)

They, Lord Robbins and Jenkin, are equally afraid that continued and accelerating depreciation of the currency may end with the kind of monetary collapse that Germany experienced between the wars.

Most workers believe that if only prices came down or were at least stabilised their chief troubles would be over. They should remember that while it is true that at present hundreds of thousands of workers cannot afford to buy a house on mortgage, exactly the same was true between the wars when prices of houses and prices in general (and wages) were only a fraction of what they are now. For the workers capitalism means hardship whether prices are high or low or falling or rising.
Edgar Hardcastle