Friday, October 13, 2023

A Socialist Searchlight. (1931)

From the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Maxton gives a date.

Mr. Maxton, M.P., under the false impression that it is a Marxian theory, has for years been prophesying the sudden and irretrievable collapse of capitalism. He has now given it a date. In a speech at Cowcaddens, reported in the Daily Record (August 22nd) and reprinted in Forward (September 12th), he said :—
“I am perfectly satisfied that the great capitalist system that has endured for 150 years in its modern form, declared Mr. James Maxton, M.P., in the Cowcaddens Ward, Glasgow, last night, is now at the stage of final collapse, and not all the devices of the statesmen, not all the three party conferences, not all the collaboration between the leaders, can prevent the system from coming down with one unholy crash. 
They may postpone the collapse for a month, two months, three months, six months,” he cried, forefinger pointing at his audience, and body crouched, “but collapse is sure and certain.”
Six months from August 22nd brings us to February, 1932. When that comes round, we will ask Mr. Maxton for his explanation.

* * *

Another exponent of the collapse theory, Mr. Walton Newbold, has suffered a strange transformation. In 1921, as a Communist, he. prophesied imminent collapse, and was doing his utmost, so he said, to hasten it. It did not come off, and Mr. Newbold, now in the Labour Party, is on this occasion rallying round MacDonald and Thomas to prop capitalism up again !

* * *

Letters to Mr. Hicks.

Mr. George Hicks, M.P., was asked for his comment on the letter of personal explanation which Mr. MacDonald sent to each of the Labour Party M.P.’s. Mr. Hicks sneeringly replied that it was just the sort of letter he would expect from a man like Mr. MacDonald.

Mr. Hicks was not always so minded about letters from that quarter. As recently as April of this year (see The Times, April 11th), when Mr. Hicks was Labour Party candidate at East Woolwich, he published a broadsheet called the George Hicks Herald, containing the letter sent by MacDonald, assuring the electors that Mr. Hicks is the sort of man MacDonald regarded as suitable to represent the workers of Woolwich.

* * *

The Communist-I.L.P. Alliance. 

The crisis has had the effect of throwing together the two reformist bodies, the I.L.P. and the Communist Party. On Sunday, September 6th, Communist and I.L.P. speakers addressed a joint demonstration in Hyde Park, speaking from the same platform. The Secretary of the Balham and Tooting I.L.P., in a letter to the New Leader (September 11th), described it as “a glorious sight to see a demonstration in Hyde Park in which both Parties were united.” This was just a week after the majority of the I.L.P. Labour M.P.’s had voted for the election of Mr. Henderson as leader of the Labour Party in place of Mr. MacDonald. Only five votes were cast against his election (Daily Express, August 29th). One of those who voted for Mr. Henderson was Mr. J. Beckett. M.P., and it was Mr. Beckett who was the star turn at the Hyde Park demonstration, although Mr. Beckett complained that Communists in his audience hurled abuse at the I.L.P. speakers. Mr. Beckett was so anxious not to have it thought that he voted against Henderson, that he had the Daily Express (August 31st) publish a correction of their statement including him among the five.
P. S.

The Socialist Forum: Should Socialists compromise? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the September issue we dealt with the question, put by a prospective Labour Party candidate for a seat on the Grimsby Town Council, as to what a Socialist should do in that position. In brief, the question was, Should a Socialist member of a minority group be uncompromising or should he compromise with the majority? In our reply we pointed out that the vital point is the character of the electorate. This determines the manner in which the successful candidate gets on to the Council, and it determines the part he can play when elected. If the electorate is composed of non-Socialists, then the successful candidate has to satisfy their desires by undertaking to carry out a non-Socialist policy. We do not believe that persons so elected can do anything to further Socialism. We added that we have no doubt that the great majority of the electors in Grimsby are non-Socialists.

A reader (J. R. Foskett, Muswell Hill) objects to our reply on the ground that it avoids answering the question by assuming that the candidate in Grimsby must be elected by non-Socialist votes. Mr. Foskett points out the possibility that one Ward may have a Socialist majority even although Grimsby as a whole is non-Socialist.

What Mr. Foskett completely ignores is the further statement contained in our reply to Mr. Matt Quinn, of Grimsby. We asked Mr. Quinn for a copy of the election address with which he proposed to seek the votes of the electors. The contents of that address would demonstrate without any possibility of doubt whether Mr. Quinn thinks that the electors are Socialist or not. Mr. Quinn declined to provide that information. This, in conjunction with the fact that Mr. Quinn, while professing to be a Socialist, is nevertheless a member of the Labour Party, gives us reasonable ground for assuming that the electors there are not Socialist, that Mr. Quinn knows they are not Socialist, and that Mr. Quinn is prepared to seek election on a non-Socialist programme. It is interesting to notice that while Mr. Foskett and other readers have intervened to suggest that perhaps the electors there are Socialist, Mr. Quinn himself did not say so in his original letter and has not come forward to correct us. If they were Socialist, it is obvious that they would never elect a member of the Labour Party to represent them.

Mr. Foskett and another reader ("No Compromise," Leicester) then go on to put a further question as to what a Socialist would do if elected as one of a minority group, put there by Socialist votes on a Socialist programme.

This raises an entirely different issue. The non-Socialist elected by non-Socialists is offering to work for certain reforms of capitalism, on behalf of electors who do not want capitalism abolished. As capitalism rests upon the exploitation of the workers, no reforms of capitalism can ever solve the workers' problems. They will constantly press their representatives to work and vote for old and new reforms, but not for Socialism until they become Socialists.

The electorate of Socialists, on the contrary, will not be under the illusion that their problems can be solved within the framework of capitalism. They will be aware moreover that Socialism pre-supposes a Socialist majority here and in other countries and also pre-supposes the conquest of the central machinery of Government, including the armed forces. They will appreciate the importance of controlling the machinery of local government, in addition to controlling the Central Government from which local powers are derived, but they will not imagine that problems whose scope is international can be solved locally. They will not permit their Socialist Councillors to compromise, i.e., make concessions to non-Socialist groups or parties. The object of the Socialist Party is to get Socialism. How, then, could it make concessions to those whose primary object is to oppose Socialism and 'maintain Capitalism?

To Socialists, the need of controlling the local councils in order to supplement the control of the central machinery of government would be a predominating issue, locally as well as nationally. The using of minority representation or the control of some local councils, to the limited extent possible, as a means of defending the workers’ position under Capitalism, is the main question to non-Socialists; to Socialists it would be a minor one.

Socialist councillors would be required by their electors to determine their policy in accordance with the chief issue, thus ruling out compromise on grounds of expediency as well as on grounds of principle.
Editorial Committee.

Mr. Bromley Day by Day. (1931)

From the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. ]. Bromley, M.P., General Secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, was a member of the Civil Service Royal Commission. He signed its report, published in July, recommending rates of pay which, for the lower grades, represented a reduction of about 9 per cent. on the rates ruling when the Commission began its investigation. Mr. Bromley also concurred rejecting the Post Office workers’ demand for their hours to be reduced from 48 to 40.

Early in September, Mr. Bromley was among his fellow Trade Union officials at the Trades Union Congress. On September 6th he addressed a demonstration and “ridiculed talk of equality of sacrifice as an excuse for wage cuts” (Daily Herald, September 7th.)

Two days later he seconded a resolution on the floor of the Congress demanding a maximum working week of 40 hours. (Daily Herald, September 9th.)

* * *

Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that Mr. Bromley is not a real fighting man. A week later he made the alarming discovery that the child elected as this year’s “Railway Queen” for a carnival was the daughter of a non-Trade Unionist. Here was a really vital question, and Mr. Bromley did not fail us. Unable (or unwilling?) to stand up against his fellow-members on the Civil Service Royal Commission, Mr. Bromley, M.P., “supported by Mr. C. T. Cramp, secretary of the N.U.R., and Mr. A. J. Walkden, M.P., secretary of the Railway Clerks’ Association,” declared that he “cannot be associated with a non-unionist who, after deserting his fellows in the railway service, tries to take advantage of their work in this connection just as he has in the conditions of service which he enjoys” (The Times, September 19th). So Mr. Bromley showed Miss Patricia Eileen Annie Clark, aged 13, what Trade Union officials are made of.

What would the workers (and the employers) do without the Labour leaders ?

We need your help. (1931)

Party News from the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

SPGB Meetings (1931)

Party News from the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Sonnet No. 117: Cutting Earth (2023)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog
Take a spade and cut a sod one spit square,

Lift that clod of earth, then identify

Precisely where the roots of the nation lie,

Has a border line been drawn clearly there,

Showing where one soil ends and the rest starts?

Judge just how heavy it is and appraise

Yourself as to how many lives it weighs,

Estimate the number of broken hearts

Required to thoroughly saturate it

With the blood of martyrs, or supposed foe,

Or simple patriots who think they know

Their national story. When they relate it

Though, they find the fiction reveals that earth’s

Everyone’s, everywhere, of equal worth.

D. A.

Editorial: Did you waste your vote? (1983)

Editorial from the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The stunned aftermath of the Tory election victory was a time for the defeated parties to be composing their excuses. The Labour Party are not yet sure who, or what, they should blame for their collapse but the Liberal/SDP Alliance are quite clear on the matter. They were, they protest, robbed; the electoral system in this country is such that it allowed a party to win power on a minority of votes while a smaller party has only a handful of seats in Parliament to show for the millions of people who supported it. This anomaly, says the Alliance, calls into question the very nature of parliamentary democracy in Britain — it is. they hope to persuade us, time for a change.

In fact this is a long-established argument, which we have been hearing from the Liberal Party ever since they were swept from the position of being the alternative government. It has now been taken up by the SDP. although none of the prominent ex-Labour ministers in the SDP complained about the electoral system when it was working to their advantage. It does not need a mathematical genius to work out, or to understand, the statistics of it. Over the country millions of votes go to unsuccessful candidates, so that when the votes cast for each party are divided by the number of their MPs it emerges that vastly fewer votes are needed overall to elect a Tory or a Labour MP than for one from the Alliance. Put another way, this means that millions of votes are virtually unrepresented in Parliament, which causes much anguish among the self-styled democrats of the Alliance.

This was the argument used by the Liberal Party to support their persistent campaign for proportional representation which, by one method or another, was supposed to produce a Parliament more in line with the votes as they are cast in the election. The Labour and Tory parties always evaded the issue of democracy and attacked the Liberal proposals on the grounds that proportional representation made for a fragmented, and therefore unstable. government. There is no evidence (except to the contrary) that working class interests are bound up with the stability or otherwise of the government, which has the role of protecting the interests of the exploiting class in society. It is important to observe that both sides in this debate are motivated, not by any objective concern for democratic representation but by a concern for their own political advantage. For example the extent of the Liberal concern for democracy can be gauged by the fact that they grant dictatorial powers to their leader on the composition of their election manifesto.

None of this should obscure the fact that democracy is important to the working class. It enables them to organise more freely in trade unions and thereby better protect themselves in the struggles of the industrial field. It makes the existence of a socialist party easier, which means that the case for a new society can be stated more effectively. And there is also the fact that life for workers under capitalism is less stressful in the absence of the type of repression associated with a dictatorship such as Nazi Germany. What is unimportant is which party holds power in a capitalist society; apart from a reshuffling of their programmes and their personalities, they are at core identical. None of them can lay claim to be able to solve the problems typical of this social system, including that of political repression. Votes for all of them — Labour, Conservative, Alliance and the rest — are votes for impotence and those millions of workers who opted for them at the election were wasting their votes.

Democracy matters to the working class because it is not impotent; it is strength. It is more than a five-yearly chance to choose between the competing political clones of capitalism; democracy is a matter of knowledge, consciousness and participation. It is, in other words, an essential part of the case for a socialist society and it is as a means to establish and organise that society that democracy achieves the true measure of its importance.

Socialism will come into existence when the world’s working class, in a conscious political act, have overthrown the class ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution and replaced it with communal ownership. It will be a classless, moneyless society in which human beings will co-operate to produce wealth which will be freely available to all to satisfy their needs. It will be a system which makes all information openly available to enable a full participation in decision-taking. Just as the socialist movement today is made up of conscious socialists, so will socialism be populated by people who are aware of the basic nature of their society and of how it must be operated to the common benefit.

Socialists have good cause to be aware of the defects of the present system of parliamentary elections. We also know that to attempt to change it, while leaving capitalism to continue, will have little effect — certainly not enough to justify a diversion of working class efforts from the struggle for socialism. The capitalist parties are concerned with the issue through an expedient preoccupation with their own fortunes; the paramount issue is not whether there should be fewer Tory MPs. or more Alliance MPs, to run capitalism perhaps slightly differently, but whether the world will continue to suffer a social system which cannot answer to its people’s needs or whether we shall have socialism.

Whatever its faults, the limited democracy in force in places like Britain at present allows a socialist movement to exist and to propagate its ideas. What hampers our progress is a persisting lack of working class consciousness and understanding. When that is remedied — and socialists everywhere work to that end — we shall have the new society of co-operation, abundance and security — the society of true democracy.

Running Commentary: End of a hero (1983)

The Running Commentary column from the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

End of a hero

Nobody could look less like it, but Menachem Begin is an adored national hero and Israel was swept with consternation and grief when he announced that, worn out in the service of its ruling class, he would throw in the job of prime minister.

The reaction showed that Jews are as susceptible to deception as workers elsewhere, in this case about the indispensable mystique of a political leader. For the emotions expressed at Begin’s retirement could not have been related to any of his achievements.

He leaves a deep mess of problems to his successor, as Israel is sunk in economic stagnation — like many other countries in the current slump — and bogged down in a long and expensive war.

Begin’s departure is a useful time to remember the kind of state Israel was supposed to become, when people like him were fighting a guerrilla war with the professed object of establishing it. It was claimed that, above all, Jewish people would have learned a unique lesson from their desperately sad history; the new state would be a haven of peace, equality and compassion.

It is not accidental that it has turned out to be very different from those noble, misconceived ideals. Israel is now the Middle East’s greatest military power (its arms industry is its biggest employer). It suppresses Arabs, hounds and terrifies Palestinians and, as in Beirut just over a year ago, it does not shrink from condoning genocide and massacre.

Far from opening the way to peace and compassion, Begin's time in office has prepared for the succession of Yitzhak Shamir, ex-member of the militant, murdering Stern gang and a hard-liner on matters political and military. If Shamir in time becomes a national hero like Begin it will mean that he too has kept to those noble ideals, that he has talked of humanity and peace while serving his ruling class through all necessary excesses of cruelty and destruction.


Some of the runners in the Labour Party leadership contest advocated a national minimum wage, with Roy Hattersley leading the way with assurances that it would bring . . a more equal society . . . narrow the gap between rich and poor . . and Michael Meacher claiming that it was “a price which can be paid”.

Fact. A national minimum wage of a sort has been in existence in this country ever since Tory loony Keith Joseph was in charge of the Department of Health and Social Security, at least that's what they called it. Joseph brought in Family Income Supplement, a state benefit designed to ensure that nobody in work — earning a wage — would fall below a certain defined level. It didn’t work.

Fact. The Labour candidates are discovering that poverty still exists in this country after most of them have been members of past Labour governments which got in power partly on an assurance that they had a simple solution to the problem. That didn't work either.

Eyeless in power

From Thatcher’s first complaints of grit in the eyes to the private surgery, there intervened only one week. Although the condition remained unnoticed by Thatcher's doctor until a few days before the operation, it had been spotted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain many years previously.

Socialists detected the presence of the Prime Minister’s infamous blind eye from the very start of her political career. It is a malady she shares with every MP who has ever taken a seat in Parliament; it is an affliction with both advantages and disadvantages.

While she and her fellow members maintain the capitalist system, it is a useful thing to be able to turn a blind eye to the human suffering this causes. Indeed, if it were not for this fortunate ailment how would our elected representatives subjugate any pangs of doubt they might feel?

How would they sleep if the glare of their own ambitions did not blind them to the degradation, pain and anxiety that capitalism pours on the exploited working class? If the visions of suffering that are better not seen could not be ignored by such a selective method of sight, would they not be campaigning for the end of such an inhumane system rather than paying homage to it?

When the working class cease to elect members with such imperfect sight and turn instead to men and women who have seen and analysed that which our contemporary MPs defensively refuse to acknowledge. then something will be done about its removal. The causes of working class suffering are known to all who have eyes to see.

In the swamp

Colourful phrases do not spring easily to the lips of Len Murray so perhaps he did not describe the 1983 TUC's tendency to move away from the traditional connection with the Labour Party as “the last twitch of the dinosaurs”.

In any case there is no cause for excitement. for the TUC may at most abandon one outdated idea for another. To develop ties with the SDP/Liberal Alliance and to begin a dialogue with the dreaded Norman Tebbit instead of with the Labour Party hardly comes into the description of fresh, relevant and optimistic ideas.

Then there is the matter of the unions’ motivation. If they do break with Labour it will be because that party’s chances of power are so dismal that there is little to be gained from affiliation with them. Better to look for a likelier prospect, even to negotiate with the Tories if they are the people in power.

It would have been more encouraging if the delegates had discussed severing from the Labour Party through a recognition of the reasons for its futility. They might also have acknowledged the Labour Party’s miserable history of trying to force down workers’ living standards and of fighting against the unions. The fact that this was all done in the interests of the British ruling class provides a conclusive reason for the unions to break with Labour — indeed to oppose it with all their power.

A debate at the TUC which ranged around that sort of awareness would have been a sign of real evolution in the unions, perhaps the first stirrings of class-consciousness which would expose and discard all connections with all the parties of capitalism.

For the present that must be a dream; but the workers can make it come true. Meanwhile the present is less happy, as the unions remain in the primeaval intellectual swamps, a long way behind reality and a proper grasp of what must be done to solve society's problems.

Labour in pain (1983)

From the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Judging from his article in Tribune (19 August 1983) Conrad Jameson of the Kensington and Chelsea Labour Party is a very frustrated man. The article cries out with utter despair against a party which has betrayed thousands who placed their faith in it.

Conrad Jameson is staggered by the cynical policy somersaults which the Labour Party has performed since its overwhelming defeat in the election:
It’s hardly seven weeks since the election. Yet Neil Kinnock has already put us back into the Common Market, E. P. Thompson has already confessed that Denis Healey was right after all — stop Trident and Cruise for now but bargain about Polaris later on. Even the sweet-natured Michael Foot has already discovered that it is only the discount that makes the Tory policy of council house sales so wicked as the principle has always been good.

These are changes, mind, coming from Labour's Centre Left — and before the October Conference. When the strains of The Red Flag have died away will we not get still more? And if that is the case why should I bother my head about turning Right or Left?
The choice in the Labour leadership battle, according to Jameson, is between Hypocrisy and Opportunism:
There are two ways of moving Labour back to the middle. One is to move Rightwards but say you haven’t. For this tactic we need a first-class hypocrite, a leader who can march backwards even while claiming to make a forward change — and for that, no doubt about it, Kinnock fits the bill . . . Another way of moving Right is simply to move Right — and shut up and be quick about it. For this tactic we need a first-class opportunist . . . For that kind of swordsmanship we need Roy Hattersley.
It can be far from satisfying to be stuck in a political party which changes its policies because the voters don't like them and which picks its leaders on the basis of their hypocritical and opportunist credentials. But that is the party which Conrad Jameson says he belongs to, and who are we to disagree with him? Of course, he is not alone. Apart from the thousands who have abandoned the Labour Party in recent weeks, months and years, there are many who, like Conrad Jameson, carry on giving loyalty to the party which is as unprincipled when it loses as when it wins. One can sympathise with their attachment to the Labour Party: it is never easy to break away from one's traditional affiliations and make a new start. Hard though it may be, there are urgent reasons why Conrad Jameson and others who feel and think like him should start questioning the basic position of the Labour Party.

Facing facts, it has to be conceded by Jameson and others that the problems of the Labour Party are not simply problems of leadership. Even if Kinnock was anything but a hypocrite and Hattersley was transparently honest Labour would still be a party which aims to work within the capitalist system. It is Labour's refusal to examine the system rather than its symptoms which makes it a party of reformism, destined as long as it survives to play the futile game of trying to run the system of exploitation in the interest of the wage slaves who are exploited.

Consider the so-called Left wing policies which Labour is now in the process of throwing overboard in a desperate attempt to keep the sinking ship afloat. Membership of the Common Market; the Left want out, the Right wants to stay in. But what interest is it of the working class whether the British capitalists — our exploiters — join the European Big Business Club or stay out of it? The pretence that workers would be much better off one way or the other is one which sustains the myth that, given a few modifications, capitalism can be turned into the kind of society where all the manifestations of poverty can be eradicated. Yet any serious analysis of capitalism would show that poverty is not a consequence of one trading alliance rather than another, but is an inevitable effect of a system based on class division.

Under the capitalist system one class owns and controls the means of wealth production. but does not produce any wealth; the wealth producers are alienated from social power. The law of the market which is the fundamental principle of capitalism, is that needs can only be satisfied if it is profitable to the capitalists. The Labour Party advocates import controls, but these are economic policies belonging to a nationalistic outlook based on a confused analysis about “what's best for Britain” rather than what socialists should be advocating: what's best for the working class. The argument over nuclear missiles is, again, seen by the Labour Party in completely reformist terms. Instead of beginning by asking why wars take place in the modern world and concluding that war is unavoidable when there is constant competition over markets, raw materials and trade routes, the Labour Party has become involved in the business of advising the British capitalists — and those of the other NATO countries — as to the most humane way to fight a future war — using conventional rather than nuclear weapons

The capitalists are not interested in fighting humanely, but in killing cheaply and with the most efficient weaponry of destruction. If E.P. Thompson now agrees with Healey’s sordid compromise that is no doubt because he has realised that if Labour is ever to provide a credible government of capitalism it will have to defend and expand British capital without any moral scruples about nuclear weapons.

To the sincere Labour Party member, who joined up in order to make society more humane, affluent and secure, the “realities” which their leaders are forced to accept must be very hard to swallow. It is easier to shout names at Kinnock and Hattersley than to accept that the “realities” which these politicians are adapting to are inevitable if Labour is to bow to the needs of capitalism. This leaves Conrad Jameson and other frustrated Labourites with a choice: either they also adapt to the needs of the profit system and drop the stuff about nuclear disarmament and standing on the side of the poor — or they stop playing the capitalist game and move beyond the barriers of the Broad Church. Of course, you can try to have it both ways and accept the role of political martyrdom, as some Leftists like to do. by staying in the Labour Party and spending a lifetime crying out against the betrayals, urging Labour governments to pretend that they are running socialism when they are running capitalism, and waiting to be dealt with in one of the periodic party purges. The self-deceit of the Militant Tendency is a one way deception: they believe that they are playing a crucial role in radicalising the Labour Party, but the Labour leaders know that they are about as dangerous as a crowd of feminists infiltrating the Girl Guides.

Suppose that you choose to leave. The mass exodus of recent years shows that you will not be the first to have thought of the idea. Where to next? Obviously, nobody leaving the Labour Party because it is a pro-capitalist party is going to be attracted to the Tories or the Alliance. At one time the Communist Party seemed to be an alternative. If there is one useful lesson which workers in Britain do seem to have learned over the last few years it is that Russian state capitalism offers no preferable alternative to private capitalism. The Communist Party of 1983 is a shadow of its old self; a blundering, old hanger-on to the coat-tails of the Labour Party. What about the other Leftist groups? Essentially, they are simply advocating old Labour policies, usually formulated in the language of Lenin. The idea that nationalisation is a socialist measure is another that workers are increasingly less taken in by and Militant's demand for the nationalisation of the top two hundred companies is hardly likely to inspire more than a yawn from any worker who understands how the capitalist system operates.

Most ex-Labourites retire into a kind of cynical apathy. Ask them which party they support and they tell you how they used to support Labour — and would probably vote for them rather than the Tories — but basically the parties are all the same. It is surprising how many workers told us that when we were campaigning for the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the recent general election. Conrad Jameson could be in grave danger of falling into the pit of apathy. Given the state of his party, and the inevitable compromises which he will have to witness from his new leader, we can hardly blame him — and many like him — for looking towards the exit door of the Broad Church.

There is always, of course, the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We appreciate that Conrad Jameson may never have heard of us and we are doing all that is within our power to ensure that our existence is more widely known. If he has heard of us he may, like many other people, have all sorts of strange misunderstandings about what we stand for. We stand for one aim and one only: socialism. Of course, socialism means many things to many people, so let us define it clearly: “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community". That object is printed on every piece of literature produced by the Socialist Party. No leader or caucus could divert us from our socialist aim because the Socialist Party has no leaders and allows no followers: admission to membership is on the basis that you know what you want and you know how to get it. The Socialist Party has a clear analysis of capitalism based largely, but not dogmatically, on the theories of Marx. It is our contention that socialism can only be established when a majority of workers, not just in Britain but throughout the world, understand and want a society of production for use and free access to wealth.

Talk to many people on the Left and in the Labour Party and they will admit to having a certain respect for the Socialist Party. Of course, they realise that a party without leaders is never going to get any followers and that a party which is not in the business of trying to make capitalism work will never make capitalism work. They stay where they are — some for power, others in hope, and others out of mental indolence. We urge members of the Labour Party like Conrad Jameson — men and women who are struggling to find a way out of the mess of reformist politics — to think hard about the case of the SPGB. Of course, there may be many disagreements to be discussed and it may be that ex-Labourites will find the unbending principles of the Socialist Party just as unacceptable as the lack of principles of the Labour Party. Unlike other political parties, membership of the SPGB involves more than filling in a form and paying a few quid. A party of principles can only retain its unity by only allowing in those who are fully with us. To the disillusioned, of whatever party they may be, the socialist message is clear: Take the trouble to consider the Socialist Party and its clear case for socialism; if you reject it, tell us why and perhaps we will be persuaded to reject it; if you agree, then the next move must be yours.
Steve Coleman

Kinnock in Wonderland (1983)

From the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Neil Kinnock, the bookmakers’ favourite to become the next Leader of the Labour Party, has a very simple explanation for the current economic depression in Britain. In a speech read to the Cardiff Fabian Society on 1 July he attributed it to a "deliberate Government policy", to a decision by the previous Tory government to pursue “policies of slump":
The Tories are caught in a trap of their own making. They set a target for reducing public spending and tax. Then they cut public spending. The economy shrinks. That reduces tax revenue and the Government has to increase borrowing. So they cut public spending some more and push up taxes. The economy slides, more people lose their jobs, and the crumble becomes a collapse, as the economy gets smaller and weaker.

The trap is their obsession about public spending. Our plans are based on using public spending for what it is good at — for investing in our industry, our people and our public services, for providing useful work for people and stable markets for the equipment they use. That is all commonsense.

We know how to achieve economic growth — how to put the country back to work. The Tories don’t.
So, for Kinnock, the present slump has been caused by the Tories’ policy of cutting government spending rather than being part of the depression phase of the economic cycle through which the world capitalist economy is currently passing. In fact, on this matter the Conservative Party can legitimately plead not guilty. The present slump is not their fault; it has not resulted from the policies they have chosen to pursue. The present slump in Britain is part of a world wide capitalist depression and the Tory governments in office since 1979 have merely passively adapted their policy to the world economic situation as any government, including Labour, would have had to do (and did do when they were in office during an earlier stage of the world depression).

If Kinnock’s explanation was the right one then, logically, the slump could be ended by a change of policy, either by a new government or even by the present Tory government. And this of course is the conclusion Kinnock wants to reach. As he put it in his election address to the voters in his constituency of Islwyn in South Wales:
We will expand the economy, by providing a measured increase in spending. Spending money creates jobs. If we increase pensions and child benefits, it means more spending power for the elderly and for parents, more bought in local shops, more orders for goods and more jobs in factories. More spending means that the economy will begin to expand; and growth will provide new wealth for higher wages and better living standards, the right climate for industry to invest and more resources for the public services.
At first sight this may seem plausible — "commonsense”, as Kinnock puts it. Since one of the features of a slump is a shrinking of the market, a lack of demand for goods, why not simply give people more money to spend? But it is not as simple as that. Slumps are provoked by the rate of profit having fallen too low to make it attractive enough for capitalists to continue investing as much in production as they had previously. The resulting cut back in production is at the same time a cutback in incomes derived from production (profits, wages, taxes). The shrinking of the market in a slump is thus a consequence of the slump, not its cause. Similarly, the “way out” can only come from a revival of profitability, not from an increase in purchasing power artificially pumped into the economy. And a revival of profitability is a slow process which will indeed come sooner or later, but which governments can do little to hasten beyond continuing to give priority to profits and profit-making.

In these circumstances what would be the effect of an increase in government spending such as advocated by Kinnock? That would depend on how it was financed. There are three ways in which a government obtains the money it spends: taxation (and in the end all taxes fall on property and property incomes, since taxes on wages and on articles consumed by wage-earners are ultimately passed on to the employer); borrowing (overwhelmingly also from property-owners since only they have the sums of money the government is likely to be interested in); and the printing press.

If the government’s increase in spending is financed by increased taxation this would inevitably come out of profits. Suppose the government used this extra money to “increase pensions and child benefits” — as Kinnock suggested in his election(eering) address. This would certainly mean “more spending power for the elderly and parents” but it would also mean less spending power for shareholders and capitalists. The extra spending by pensioners and parents would be offset by the decrease in spending by capitalists, either on their own consumption or in reinvesting in production. There would therefore be no overall increase in spending of the sort Kinnock wants to rely on to get the economy expanding again. The government would have simply robbed Peter to pay Paul, the overall level of demand in the economy remaining the same.

But suppose that the government used the extra money raised by taxation “for investing in our industry", as Kinnock suggested to the Cardiff Fabians. Once again the overall level of demand would remain the same, with the government simply investing, spending on productive activity, what private capitalist industry had previously been doing. It is indeed possible that the capitalists had been hoarding or lending to the financial market rather than themselves re-investing their profits in production, but this would have been due to the absence of profitable sales outlets. The fact that their profits were taxed away and re-invested by the government would not alter this situation for the government would find it just as difficult as the private capitalists would have done to sell the extra goods it had invested in. To the extent that it did succeed in selling them this could only be at the expense of sales by private capitalist industry. So once again the economy would not expand. The most that would happen would be a change in the pattern of what was produced.

The situation would be just the same if the government decided to finance this increased investment by borrowing, inevitably from private capitalists. For these latter would only be prepared to lend their capital rather than investing it themselves in production because they would have judged that no profits, or insufficient profits compared to the rate of interest on loan capital, were to be made from producing goods. As to the final theoretical option, even Kinnock has not suggested borrowing money at interest from private capitalists to increase pensions and child benefits!

In the end, then, if government spending is to have any chance of having the effect that Kinnock wants it to have, if it is to be a real injection of extra purchasing power into the economy rather than a mere redistribution of already existing purchasing power, it will have to be financed by using the printing press. This is what Kinnock is in effect advocating. But the result would not be to expand the economy, which will only begin to expand of its own accord when profit prospects improve; it would rather be to expand the rate at which prices are rising. For printing money in excess of what the economy needs at any particular time for its various transactions can only result in the depreciation of the currency, reflecting itself as a rise in the general price level.

Internally this does not matter too much since people can get used to the changing value of the paper tokens they use in their economic transactions, but it can have serious effects on the competitive position in the world market of the country which practises it. A higher rate of inflation than the world average, or than those of a country’s main commercial rivals, will mean that the prices of its exports will rise faster than those of its rivals and so become uncompetitive. This will reflect itself in falling sales and so in falling profits and then in falling output and rising unemployment.

In his speech to the Cardiff Fabians Kinnock cited the last Labour period of office from 1974-79 as an example of what a government “committed to planned growth" could do. Certainly the world depression had only just begun then and had still not reached its lowest point at the time the Callaghan government was voted out of office in 1979. It is however strange that Kinnock should refer back to this period since Callaghan is on record as having, on the basis of an actual experience of running capitalism, expressed the exact opposite view to that which Kinnock and the Labour Party, now in opposition, advance:
We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting bigger doses of inflation into the economy, followed by higher levels of unemployment (The Times, 29 September 1976).
No wonder the Labour Party has lost all credibility. Out of office "More spending means the economy will begin to expand”; in office they suddenly discover that “that option no longer exists”. As a matter of fact it never did exist. The idea that a government can spend its way out of a depression is based on a complete misunderstanding of how capitalism works. But then the Labour Party never did understand capitalism. Kinnock doesn’t either, which must make him a typical Leader for the Labour Party.
Adam Buick