Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Editorial: A world fit for humans (1978)

Editorial from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The great mistake of the so-called Environmentalist Movement is that it treats the thing it seeks to protect as if it existed separately from the very conditions which put it under attack.

It is almost impossible now to read a newspaper which is bare of some sort of reference to pollution of the air or the sea or the rivers; in some cases, such as the Mediterranean of the Canadian Lakes, to a frightening extent. And we have recently been made starkly aware of the fact that there is a time bomb being rapidly built up beneath us — atomic power stations, oil refineries, chemical plants and the like.

Every so often something happens which confirms some of our worst fears — like the leak at Windscale or the explosion at Flixborough or the poison cloud at Seveso. These events are called accidents, which is a rather loose way of using that word.

And what about the places which actually sit on the time bomb? There is no lack of verbose planning experts (simple minded people may be surprised, or shocked, to learn that such places are actually planned) who contribute their worries about the pressures of urban decay (a nice name for slums) or development blight (a way of describing homes made uninhabitable by the motorway outside the bedroom window) or locational stress (which can mean the big jets screaming in just above the chimney).

So we might expect that there would spring up organisations, armed with facts and statistics and a measure of sincerity (as well, sometimes, with an injection of commercially inspired financial support) to oppose the chemical plant or the motorway or the airport runway.
Such organisations have an instant appeal. Who would not demonstrate against a great slash of concrete destroying a green and peaceful valley, where workers might expect to find some rest after the rush and tear of the week? Who is not outraged by the cloud of poison which is ceaselessly pumped into the atmosphere?

The question, then, is why these organisations, with their facts and their sincerity and their resources, fail. Why, after all their efforts to stem the polluting tide, does the environment steadily deteriorate and become even more threatening to the people who exist in it?

We live today under social system known as capitalism — an accurate name, since its driving force is the accumulation of wealth as capital. This gives that wealth a particular social characteristic; it is commodity wealth, produced for sale rather that for use.
For example, food is produced under capitalism not because people need to eat, but in order that it be sold; and literally millions of people starve simply because they cannot buy the food they need to live. Homes are built under capitalism, not because people need shelter and comfort, but to sell or rent; and literally millions of people are homeless or live in slums, because they cannot afford a decent home. The list of the ways in which capitalism fails to provide for the needs of its people is almost without end.
Capitalism has organised its communities — its towns and its cities — as basically economic units, to feed more easily its massive appetite for human exploitation in the productive process. This concentration makes for its own tensions; apart from those more obvious ones of the slums there are the subtle neuroses of the trim estates of semi-detached poverty, where every worker’s dream of his own mortgage millstone comes horrendously true. Or the outworn terraces, as close as the bugs which infest them. Or the high rise flats, once the final solution of the planners who never seem actually to live in them.

And every so often what small peace there might be found in these concentrations is shattered by a road being ground through, or a new runway laid down or great concrete towers of office blocks being raised alongside. The environmentalists wail and wring their hands over the destruction of something they like to call the Quality of Life — which begs an enormous number of questions.

It is because they ignore the basic facts of capitalism’s motivation that the environmentalists fail and must continue to fail. The alternative may not have their kind of glamour, the appeal of the instant demonstration or sit down before the TV camera, but it does have the more enduring quality of matching effectively with reality.

There is only one way of ending capitalism’s problems and that is to end capitalism itself. That said, there is only one alternative to capitalism and that is socialism. The new society will be one of common ownership of the means of production and distribution, which means that its wealth will be produced for use.

One immediate result of this will be that the priorities of socialism will be those of human interests and not minority profit. The quality of what we produce — whether it is food or clothing or housing — and of how we organise our lives will be, simply, the best we are capable of.

Socialism will be a massive transformation of every aspect of human life — our social and personal relationships, how and where we live and what surrounds our lives. The experiences of capitalism — its slums, its pressures, its assault upon the very air we breathe — will be no more than an evil memory.

Socialist society will give us a sweeter life; it will cleanse the food we eat, the water we drink, the very earth we tread. It will be a world fit for human beings to live in and it is waiting for us to make it reality.

Running Commentary: Hypocrisy at Camp David (1978)

The Running Commentary column from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hypocrisy at Camp David

There is no record of anyone who attended the recent Egypt/Israeli talks at Camp David actually being physically sick, but such was the hypocrisy which spewed out there that it might easily have happened.

With the first approaches between the two countries, last year, Begin and Sadat both made unctuous speeches implying that peace could come to the Middle East provided all the leaders there were sincere in their desire for it. It was, they said, a simple matter of good intentions triumphing over bad — a weary but persistent version of history.

These good intentions soon evaporated when the leaders got down to discussing the real business of the economic and military domination of the area.

It was then that the Americans, much in the style developed by Henry Kissinger, forced both sides once more to the conference table. The agreement which followed — which effectively postponed settlement of the more sensitive problems — was publicised in the same nauseating manner as before, with Sadat embracing Begin as a grinning Carter looked on.

Capitalism’s war and peace are not matters of good intentions, or bad; war springs from the economic rivalries inherent in the system. The Middle East, with its oil rich fields and its strategic importance, is especially sensitive and so has been in continual conflict for a very long time.

America’s rivalry with Russia has given given it an interest in keeping the peace — on American terms — in the Middle East, an interest which was demonstrated in, for example, the intervention over Suez in 1956 and the invasion of the Lebanon in 1958.

So Camp David, behind the publicity handouts, was a typically sordid carve up of capitalist interests, backed by some frightening military power. As an agreement it will be worth no more than those others which, when it suited the signatories, were broken.

The true nature of Camp David was illuminated when it became clear that the American arms industry was going to be able to sell a lot more of its products as a result — and to both sides, too.

So everyone was happy, except those who care for the future of human society and who want a safer world for us to live in — or those who may have been sick over it all.

British cars in trouble

British Leyland has been subjected to the attentions of a succession of whizz kids, if that term can be applied to the ageing likes of Lords Stoke and Ryder. These men were said to be possessed of unnatural powers enabling them to tame the wildest ways of capitalism’s anarchy.

Well so far they have all failed, which has not deterred another candidate being pushed into the cage to see what he could do to put down the uncontrollable.

Michael Edwardes came to British Leyland with the reputation of a man who unfailingly organises profitable balance sheets. So when he found that BL is in such deep trouble he must have had problems, after all those nice things said about him in the newspapers, in admitting that it might be anything to do with him or with what he is trying to control.

Nobody could have been surprised when Edwardes decided that the real problem is with the workers at British Leyland who, as everyone knows, are a peculiarly lazy, unreliable and selfish lot. In fact there has been so much propaganda recently on those lines that the BL worker has become part of British capitalism’s folk mythology, a scapegoat for the system’s defects.

It should be noted, that so far Edwardes has confined his criticism of those who don’t work to exclude the most blatant examples of it — the capitalist class. Perhaps he is too well aware of who is employing him — and of what they expect him to say.

Behind the emotional smoke screen, the facts about the car industry are clear. Competition is fierce — and getting fiercer in this country, as more and more foreign vehicles challenge for a slice of the market. Where before there were a few Renaults and Volkswagens there are now many, as well as Japanese, Italian and even Russian cars.

British Leyland invested a lot of money in its Marina model, which competes in the middle range where the pressure is particularly strong Cutting corners to keep costs down has resulted in a shoddy car, even by the standards of the car industry, and this also contributed to BLs sick joke image.

A typical mess of capitalism. But the answer does not lie in inveighing against the workers, who also compete for employment and for survival, but in an examination of the social system itself.

No vacancies

Not only do the workers (skilled tradesmen, foremen, shop-floor workers, managers) operate capitalist society, and produce and distribute its commodities, but they play a large part in enforcing the capitalist ethic. Many members of the working class never see a capitalist (unless perhaps on the telly, or getting into a taxi outside a London luxury hotel). The average youth is drilled into accepting the capitalist ethic (that is, it is right for the owning class to live in wealth without working, but it is wrong for the rest of us to live even in poverty without working) by other members of the working class: parents and relatives, teachers, journalists, policemen, workmates, civil servants, etc.

Almost certainly Stephen Dayus, the sixteen-year-old son of a Birmingham window cleaner, never met or spoke with a capitalist. Yet he was convinced of his own worthlessness when he left school and could not find a job. “He longed to be an electrician and wrote countless letters to employers. But in job-hungry Birmingham — where thousands of youngsters shared his plight — the reply was always the same: no vacancies” (Daily Express, 29.3.78.) Stephen probably did not realise that there are thousands of young people in this country at this moment who are not only not looking for employment, but would regard it as totally irrelevant. They will never have to “get a job”; they may sit on a few boards of directors in due course, but the nearest they will get to work will be to make sure that others are working in the enterprises they will inherit. All Stephen knew was what other members of the working class told him; that the was failing in his line of duty if he could not find an employer to make a profit out of him. “Finally, depressed by rejection and the jibes of luckier friends sixteen-year-old Stephen hanged himself” 

No individual capitalist can be blamed for this tragic suicide. It is the capitalist system, with the loyal support and assistance of many deluded members of the working class, which killed Stephen Dayus.

The end of human nature (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

People are only too well aware of the magnitude of the social problems which daily confront them. The persistence of conflict at every level of human affairs, from wife bashing to open warfare, serves only to reaffirm the prevailing mood of pessimism about social relations. Society’s manifest failure to solve or alleviate problems such as malnutrition or war has not however, led to a rejection of the principle of leadership or to a lack of faith in those with ‘new solutions’. Far from the working class thinking and acting in terms of common human interests on a social basis, we find that popular wisdom continues to accept the failure of political solutions as inevitable.

The reason for this lack of success, according to most people, is not the misconceptions of leaders but the ineradicable flaws in the human make-up. If humans are naturally aggressive, selfish and acquisitive, the establishment of social harmony is out of the question. What is referred to as human nature will not permit it.

In the difficult task of rebutting this popular fallacy, socialists are not alone. In the field of research into the nature and history of the human species, there has developed a strong body of opinion in support of the view that they are not dominated by an innate aggressiveness and self-interest. Furthermore, these studies stress the possibility, and indeed necessity, of human beings transforming their behaviour and relations in society in order to overcome their problems.

The anthropologist Elman Service in the Introduction to his book The Hunters, has this to say about twentieth century people:
Civilised man is often uneasily aware that not all of civilisation is an improvement, although there seems to be very little agreement about what is wrong, unpleasant or perhaps unnecessary about it — except of course such things as war, crime, and mental illness. And even for these ills there is no obvious panacea. Could it be that civilised man does not understand his civilisation very well? Most anthropoligists are likely to go further. Civilised man does not understand his civilisation at all. He does not even know what it is. (our emphasis)
Study of societies still living at the food gathering and hunting stages of cultural development points up the error of those who see the future of the human race as determined by ‘ineradicable shortcomings’. Attempts. particularly of the Konrad Lorenz/Desmond Morris/Robert Ardrey school, to show that homo sapiens is simply an improved form of ape have been soundly and scientifically debunked, in particular in the works on human aggression by Ashley Montagu and Erich Fromm. (That apes are not innately aggressive, as has been demonstrated in the research of Jane Van Lawick-Goodall, George Schaller and Dian Fossey, is another matter). ,

Service, in the above quoted work, shows that selfishness and hierarchy are not common features of primitive society, and that on the question of dominance the hunting and food gathering band differs more completely from the apes than do any other kind of human society. There is a total absence of authority based upon either physical strength or sources of power such as wealth, heredity, military or political office. Even when, by dint of greater strength or wisdom, individuals possess greater status or prestige than others, the manifestation of these prerogatives is the opposite of ape-like dominance; the rewards are intangible, being merely the attention and love of others. In primitive society prestige is accorded to the individual only if their qualities are put to work in the service of the group, a feature alien to ape society. Service further refutes the idea that what is accepted to-day as natural human behaviour holds good for all times in history:
In no hunting-gathering society is gratitude expressed, and, as a matter of fact it would be wrong even to praise a man as “generous" when he shares his game with his camp-mates. On another occasion he could be said to be generous, but not in response to a particular incident of sharing, for then the statement would have the same implications as an expression of gratitude; that the sharing was unexpected, that the giver was not generous simply as a matter of course.
This was exemplified by the reproof another anthropologist received when thanking an Eskimo hunter for sharing his meat with him.

On the question of aggression another equally eminent anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, in Wayward Servants or the two worlds of the African Pygmies remarks on the virtual absence of physical or emotional aggression in the groups known to him. This was borne out by the lack of warfare, feuding, witchcraft and sorcery. Even the act of hunting is, to Turnbull, not carried out in aggressive spirit at all. Due to the consciousness of depleting natural resources there is actually a regret at killing life.

So, contrary to popular belief, the human race is capable of different behaviour in different environments. In the words of Marshall Sahlins:
In selective adaptation to the perils of the stone age. human society overcame or subordinated such primate propensities as selfishness, indiscriminate sexuality, dominance and brute competition. It substituted kinship and cooperation for conflict, placed solidarity over sex. morality over might. In its earliest days is accomplished the greatest reform in history; the overthrow of human primate nature and thereby secured the evolutionary future of the species.
Many anthropologists are not only aware that humanity can radically change its behaviour patterns as a species, but realise that it is absolutely essential that this be done if we are to survive. Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin in their book Origins have this to say:
Precisely because evolution produced an animal capable of tackling whatever challenge the environment might offer, the answer must be that very few behavioural patterns are rigidly built into the human brain. Obviously our brains are not jumbled networks of nerve cells with no overall structure. The anatomy of the human brain is well ordered, but it is built in such a way as to maximise behavioural adaptability. Within reasonable biological limits, humans, it is fair to say, could adapt to living in almost limitless numbers of ways. Indeed this flexibility is manifest in the rich pattern of cultures expressed throughout the world, (page 945)
Primitive people began the process of social production, making possible the enormous technical development of modern times. However, in the course of this progress the individual became more and more dependent upon society as a whole, his changing behaviour reflective of new social structures. Capitalism, based as it is on private property relationships, creates problems which are insoluble within its own framework. The further development of social co-operation and the elimination of antagonism can now be achieved only within the framework of Socialism, a society of common ownership and production for use. Anthropologists may be dimly aware of the barrier to human progress presented by the social relations under capitalism, but unfortunately this awareness takes the form of mild reproach and idealistic moralising.

If it is true that, in the words of Marx, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”, the abolition of private property will see the beginnings of the development of the new humanity and the disappearance of ‘human nature’, a concept central to capitalist ideology.
Harry Walters

In 1918 they called it peace (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are very few people alive who experienced the First World War — the first swift moves of 1914, the settling down into the trenches from the Channel to the border of Switzerland, the mud and the policy of attrition which ground away millions of lives and then the great battles of 1918 and the Armistice, which came sixty years ago this month.

The war opened, on both sides, in a mood of high optimism. The author Henry Williamson, who himself survived much of the fighting, describes the last minutes of peace:
That night I wandered with a cousin to the West End and we heard Big Ben strike the hour. The German Government had not replied. Wild cheers rose on every side.
The troops marched away to cheers and brass bands, the recruiting stations were jammed with eager heroes, it was widely assumed that by Christmas another glorious victory would have been written into the history of British — or German — imperialism. This jingoism was subsequently fed by the official propaganda machines, at their traditional task of making the truth the first casualty in a war. The Germans alleged that any prisoners taken by the Belgians were liable to have their eyes gouged out (and then collected into convenient buckets for war correspondents to see); the Allies were definite that the brutal Prussians were severing children’s hands to prevent them growing up into a new generation of soldiers.

By 1918 the mood had changed, after the experiences of the Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele and the like. The exuberance had given way to grim despair and a conviction that the war would, if not actually last forever, go on for a very long time with the trenches stuck there in the mud swallowing up one generation after another. There was little expectation that the end was so near; in August 1918 Churchill told Haig, the British Commander in Chief, that the “decisive period” of the war was to come in July 1919.

So when the Armistice came it was often greeted with a numb indifference. On the Western Front, exhausted soldiers simply slept through the rain which fell that day. One officer recorded the event in his diary, in less than heroic terms: “November 11 — Armistice with Germany commenced. Weather: Fairly heavy rain”. It was a strange ending to the battles of that year, which had introduced the direct military presence of American capitalism into the affairs of Europe and which had persuaded the German ruling class that they would do better to try to live to fight another day. Their army was allowed to return home in good order, a circumstance which subsequently fuelled the Nazis’ argument that the brave, honest German soldier had been stabbed in the back by the politicians.

It is impossible to compute anything like an accurate figure for the total losses of the war; one estimate says that 30 millions is too low for all the members of the forces and the civilians who lost their lives. Then there was the massive burden of the wounded — maimed, blinded, gassed or with nerves shattered by the shellfire. Many of these lingered for years, dying gradually over the days of disillusionment in the twenties and the thirties. And there were others, who were not killed or maimed but whose lives were distorted by the loss of someone they depended upon; the wife of a soldier who was killed got 5 shillings (25p.) a week plus ls.6d. (9p.) for each child, which was not far off starvation.

These were the people who, in 1918, were waiting for the promises of verbose politicians to be made good; they had suffered, as they had been told to, and now they were due to experience the better, safer world which their endurance was supposed to build.

Reality was something different. Demobilised servicemen came home to join the dole queue, the Means Test and the insulting rigours of the Not Genuinely Seeking Work Clause. They roamed the streets begging, or tried to live by selling laces in the gutter. They returned from the trenches to the slums — and many of them might hardly have noticed the difference.
It is a pitiful thing to think of, but thousands of these brave men of ours have better homes in the trenches of Flanders than in the sunless alleys of our Motherland.
(Arthur Mee, Lloyd’s News, March 26, 1916).
The bewilderment and despair bore a predictable response. In England the workers turned from Conservative to Labour and back again; there was a questioning of the political system and of the value of parliamentary democracy which on the Continent helped the dictatorships into power. And in 1939, as a fitting climax to Europe’s new Dark Age, the struggle between German capitalism and the rest was resumed.

There are many questions being asked, now, about the First World War but few go to the roots of the matter. Much of the criticism of 1914/18 is laid at the door of stuffy, incompetent generals, who were more worried about the shine on their boots than about the sufferings of the men in the trenches. Or the war is treated as a massive historical accident, which might easily have been avoided by more skilful statesmanship.

These theories are inconsistent with one vital fact. August 1914 was the climax of a long period of the build up of their respective forces by the great powers of European capitalism. The military build up was itself a by-product of the challenge which German capitalism was making to the established dominance of the French and the British.

Socialist Opposition
That dominance was based on the industrial development and the imperial expansion of Britain and France during the 19th. century. German capitalism came comparatively late on the scene and as its industrial power increased it too began to look for expansion. The clash with the powers already in command was unavoidable.

Their victory in 1871 had given the Germans access to the ore of Lorraine; their production of iron and steel quickly outstripped that of Britain. Their mercantile fleet expanded and their ambition to become a new colonial power, with all that that meant in terms of markets and access to sources of raw materials, had to follow. Germany acquired the beginnings of an empire in Africa and, in the Agadir incident in 1911, showed its desire to get a foothold in North Africa. The plan to build a rail link between Berlin and Baghdad opened a way into India and, perhaps, then the Far East.

It was to support these economic ambitions that Germany built up her armed forces. The German Navy threatened to match that of Britain — something the British capitalist class could not accept without contest. Their army became a highly professional force, dedicated to the most efficient and ruthless prosecution of war — which the French ruling class could not accept. In the Schlieffen Plan the Germans laid down their design for the conquest of Western Europe and when it all began it became virtually impossible to turn it back in its tracks .

That war, then, did not appear suddenly out of the mists; it was the predictable outcome of a typical clash of interests in the perpetually feuding world of capitalism. What of those who saw this, who saw that workers were being pressed to fight for their masters’ interests and who stood out against the bully boy patriots who thirsted after the blood of their fellow workers?

From the outset the Socialist Party of Great Britain made our opposition plain:
. . . no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood . . . Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
Opposition to the war was a hazardous stand to take. Objectors, of whatever persuasion, were often given a very rough time:
The Daily Mail wants the names of every known pacifist or active friend of Germany in your city, town or village . . . (Daily Mail, October 25 1917).
There were many examples of the brutal treatment of conscientious objectors, callously justified by Kitchener as “horseplay amongst soldiers”. This excuse illustrated one especially nasty feature of the system of dealing with objectors; all too easily they could be “deemed to have enlisted”, which meant that they were officially regarded as being in the army and subject to military law and discipline, whether they wanted to be or not. Thus if they were shipped to France and continued to disobey orders to put on a uniform they could be — and in many cases were — sentenced to death.

In no case were these sentences carried out, although some not uninfluential voices thought they should have been. In the case of political objectors there was an especial disdain. Colonel Wyndham Childs, who as Director of Personal Services — the ‘discipline branch’ of the War Office — was responsible for the treatment of conscientious objectors who, because they were “deemed to have enlisted” were officially in the army, recommended in April 1918:
That it should immediately be made known that conscientious objectors who disobey a lawful command . . . will be tried by General Court Martial and, if sentenced to death by that court, the sentence will be carried out if it appears that their objection is based on political and not religious grounds . . .
For the Socialist Party, propaganda was a difficult, almost impossible, business. Our meetings were broken up, our headquarters raided by the police and our members who were eligible for conscription were either imprisoned or forced to go on the run. Wherever they were — Dartmoor, Wormwood Scrubs or living rough — they continued to put the case against the war which was slaughtering their fellow workers in the cause of their masters and for the society of socialism. When the last shots were fired in 1918, we could look back on our defiant statement of August 1914 as a pledge to our class which we had kept through four desperate years.

In 1918 they called it peace but such has been the history of the world since then that there is hardly any need, now, to draw attention to the cynicism of that claim. The sixty years since 1918 have been of practically unbroken war, somewhere in capitalism, because this social system cannot exist as a harmonious, co-operative human experience. Capitalism is essentially divisive and conflict is basic to its nature.

These facts will not be in the minds of the people who stand at the cenotaphs this November, nor will they be heard in the sermons which are mouthed there. The poppies and the wreaths and the parades will be marking the end of one of capitalism’s bloodiest episodes — one tragic futility celebrated by another.

Diary of a Capitalist (1978)

The Diary of a Capitalist column from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard


Christmas will soon be here again. The problem of presents becomes harder the richer one gets; almost all one’s acquaintances have got everything they could reasonably want anyway, so what on earth does one buy them? I was reminded of my Christmas shopping two years ago by finding a brochure showing some of the things one could buy at Christmas 1976. I bought several of the things illustrated—for despite what I just wrote, there are always various young persons around who are very ready to show their gratitude in return for one’s generosity. One young friend of mine told me she’d taken up cycling for her figure, so I bought her the Austro-Daimler Ultima Superleicht. advertised as the world’s most expensive bicycle, for £600; and to go with it, a pair of gold cycle clips, each inset with a diamond, for £1200 the pair. Along with a Baignoire gold wristwatch, £700, they made a nice little parcel on the handlebars of the bike. For another close friend I got an eighteen-carat gold cigarette lighter with a diamond-studded top. which cost £5000 from Cartiers.

This year, of course, after two more years of inflation, little gifts like that could be quite expensive.


Talking of inflation, some newspaper and TV commentators speak of it as if it were an unaccountable visitation, perhaps supernaturally inflicted on us to punish us for our sins. In fact our inflation, and its exact degree from year to year, is decided by successive Governments when they arrange how large the money issue will be. An increase in the money in circulation means inflation; a greater increase means greater inflation. If the money issue was held steady, there could be no inflation; while if it was diminished, there would be deflation.

Politicians prefer a certain amount of inflation because they believe it prevents the unemployment figures getting higher still, which would be a drawback electorally.

As an individual capitalist, however, I can see that one of the main benefits of inflation to me and those like me is that it inflicts an automatic wage-cut on every employee every year: 10 per cent inflation, 10 per cent wage-cut, 15 per cent inflation, 15 per cent wage-cut, and so on. The workers try to increase the nominal value of their pay to maintain its real value; so they can always be depicted in the media as greedy, grasping, never satisfied. In the 1920s, there was actually deflation. Employers naturally tried to reduce the nominal amount of wages in order to prevent their real value continually rising. In those days it was easier to depict the employers as greedy, heartless Scrooges. It was one such attempt to cut wages in this old-fashioned way, in 1926, by reducing the miners’ pay and then locking them out when they refused to accept the reduction, which led to the General Strike. (It’s very satisfying, incidentally, to see that many of the history books call the miners’ lock-out a strike; showing that historians like to keep the appropriate ruling-class propaganda in their accounts even when it is easily shown to be factually inaccurate.) We defeated the General Strike, of course, but it was very unpleasant while it lasted. Now we have a way to force a wage-cut on every one, not only on selected industries, every year, even every month; and some innocent "experts’’ wonder why inflation has continued without abatement since the 1930s.

Do they think the ruling class are all fools?


One enjoyable way to spend one’s profits is in buying a boat and cruising our coastal waters. One chum of mine, Byron Alexander, a successful businessman with three companies and a luxurious house in Chalfont St Giles, has bought a £40,000 twin-engined cruiser; it has £6000-worth of electronic gadgetry on board, and he keeps it at Hamble on Southampton Water. Every weekend he drives down there in his Rolls, and acts as a voluntary auxiliary coastguard. "I am in the fortunate position of being able to do what I want”, he told a reporter (Daily Mail, 12.4.78). "Some people in my position would build a model railway or just spend their money on enjoying themselves. I prefer doing this. It’s my hobby.’’

The cruiser costs about £11,000 a year to operate.


Met Lady Compton this morning. She told me she "has rejected London life and men to concentrate on three-day eventing (like Princess Anne)” (Evening News, 31.8.78). She was divorced not long ago from Lord Compton, who has since succeeded as Marquis of Northampton. She was his second wife, and she got a “generous six-figure divorce settlement”. However, the marquis has enough left; he is worth £20 million.

This afternoon went to Sotheby’s, and bought a double magnum of 1870 port for £280. A chap I knew at school got a magnum of 1811 cognac for £520 (Daily Telegraph, 30.9.78). I could never touch some of the cheap wines and spirits that ordinary people seem to buy. I suppose they enjoy them; not everyone can have an educated palate like mine.


People have been making a fuss over Lord (Lew) Grade’s pay-rise from £59,500 a year to over £200.000, and Tiny Rowland’s from £70,000 to £80,000. Rowland’s increase has been contrasted with the way Lonrho (Rowland’s group of companies) treated a caretaker. Lonrho sold off 24 of a block of 48 flats they owned in Islington for £128.000; and then reduced the caretaker's pay (he also had accommodation. light, and heat from £25.50 to £12.50 (Sunday Mirror, 20.8.78). Grumbles have been heard that the rises self-awarded to Grade and Rowland don't square with the Government’s guide-lines. Why can’t people realise that the Government was intending to control the workers, not the capitalists?

In my own case, my ostensible income, which I report to the tax authorities, is only part of my real gains from my businesses: the rest comes from all kinds of perks within the company, week-ends at country “conference centres” near grouse moors, travelling overseas to foreign trade shows in say Switzerland or Florida (who knows how often you attend?) and so on.


The widow of Leo Bodmer has disappeared in unusual circumstances. I knew Leo years ago—he was president of a Swiss newspaper, and a director of an engineering group. Since Leo’s death, his widow Iris has been living at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne (Sunday Times, 23.7.78). Then she decided to go on the QE2. on a cruise it was making from New York via the Panama Canal and Tahiti to Tasmania and Australia, then returning via Hong Kong. Yokohama and Honolulu to San Francisco. She flew to New York, and stayed at the Plaza Hotel while she booked her ticket. Prices for the cruise went up to £88,500, plus extras, for a duplex penthouse; Mrs Bodmer paid only £4700 for the first part of the voyage, to Sydney. She enjoyed it. and paid another £5700 to go on to Honolulu. She had with her 18 trunks for her possessions, including fur coats and jewellery. On special occasions ‘‘she would don a million dollars’ worth of jewellery. Sometimes it was the pearl necklaces, sometimes the rubies-and- diamonds."

When the QE2 was nearly at Honolulu, Iris Bodmer disappeared. The maid who came to call her one morning found her cabin empty, and her bed not slept in. Most of her gems she had put in a safe-deposit box on board, but apparently not all of them.

No trace of her has been found since. The Swiss authorities have failed to discover any relative who might inherit the Bodmer fortune. Police enquiries have been no more than tentative; Mrs Bodmer was a Swiss national, in a British ship, approaching American waters. None of the three national authorities involved appears to have made a thorough investigation. The ruling classes of different states must obviously be rivals of each other, whether in peace-time economic competition or open war; but surely they should be able to co-operate in a matter such as this


Two peers among my acquaintances have both gone into the restaurant business—Viscount Newport and Baron Burghersh. They have both decided to expand, and open new premises in Beverly Hills, California. Burghersh is going to fly over a hundred friends for the inauguration of his new venture some time next year (Evening News, 31.8.78). I’m expecting my invitation any day now.

I saw an advertising brochure for The Times recently, and it claims there were 155,000 Times readers who took three or more holidays every year. If the people who go round making the necessary interviews ever come to me, should I include jaunts like this one in my “holidays”—flying 6000 miles to join in the junketings when a new business venture opens?

I don’t think I would count it. After all. when you look at it carefully, it’s just a business trip to promote a new venture, isn’t it?
Alwyn Edgar

What is women’s liberation ? (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Women are not inferior to men. They are quite capable of participating to the same extent as men both in the production of wealth and in the general running of social affairs. That they do not do so today is not due to any inherent disability but to their having been denied the same opportunities as men to acquire the skills needed for such participation. This may seem to be stating the obvious, especially in the columns of a socialist publication, but there is a widespread popular prejudice, reflecting itself in discriminatory practices, which denies this.

An increasing number of women have come to resent and oppose this prejudice and discrimination in a movement which has become known as Women’s Liberation — misleadingly since this suggests that the disappearance of these anti-women prejudices and practices would amount to the liberation of women. Which would be far from being the case as all the demands of the women’s movement, even the most radical, are compatible with capitalism and in fact amount to no more than demanding the creation of conditions that would permit women to compete on the labour-market with men.

The capitalist state has long accepted equality of women with regard to the vote and property ownership and has recently legislated to try to ensure equality over wages, recruitment, promotion, pensions and social security. Socialists, who understand how the economic laws of capitalism function, have doubts about how effective legislation can be in ensuring equality of wages as long as the quality of the labour power of many women is impaired by the discrimination they suffered when they were brought up and educated. In these circumstances to force employers to pay equal wages for unequal labour powers can only lead to them choosing not to employ the poorer quality — to increased unemployment amongst women.

Paying “wages” for housework (presumably by the state) would come up against the same economic laws of capitalism and lead to a reduction in wages generally since the wage of a man with children at present includes an element for maintaining the family. If this were paid directly by the state then the employer would no longer have to pay it. This was long a trade union objection to family allowances which, now that they are paid direct to the mother, are a sort of “wage” for housework.

It is a recognition of this harsh economic fact that the skills of many women are at present inferior to those of many men that has led some sections of the women’s movement to go even further and challenge the way women are brought up and educated. They complain that, from the earliest age, girls are taught to consider themselves as the “weaker sex” and to concern themselves with activities connected with the home rather than with more outward-looking activities reserved for boys.

Of course this handicap is not insurmountable and many women have overcome it but it still remains an obstacle which results in women being at a disadvantage with men when competing on the labour-market. On the other hand, it leads to women accepting jobs that are more like the activities they were brought up to consider a women’s role such as teaching, nursing and being secretaries, thus reinforcing the prejudice that it is only these jobs that women are capable of doing.

It is in this sense that some sections of the women’s movement are quite logical, in terms of the aim of achieving equality of opportunity for women to compete with men, in directing their criticisms against the way in which girls are at present brought up. But however radical their proposals in this connection may be — and they involve a complete revision of all children’s books and even nursery rhymes — these still remain compatible with capitalism.

The same goes for other demands like challenging the necessity of a woman taking her husband’s name on marriage and the replacement of "Mrs” and "Miss” by a common "Ms”. There is in fact no way in which the current practices can be rationally defended once the premise that woman are human beings in their own right who should enjoy the same treatment as men is accepted, but who would argue that their abolition would pose a threat to capitalism?

Another of the handicaps women face when competing with men in the labour-market is their biological nature as child-bearers which requires them, whenever they have children, to withdraw from working for wages for a while. The women’s movement proposes as the solution here the provision of more nurseries including at the place of work; to which neither employers nor the capitalist state have any objection in principle and which they are often prepared to provide, even if as inadequately as all so- called “social services” under capitalism.

The demand of the more radical sections of the women’s movement for "free contraception” and “free abortion on demand" is also in the end a proposal to overcome this handicap to equal competition. For, if implemented, one of its aims would be to permit women, like men, to engage in sex without having to worry about their wages career being unexpectedly interrupted by having to bear children.

To say that the demands of the women’s movement are compatible with capitalism is not to say that these demands are not worth having (especially those concerning the treatment of women as equal human beings), but is to answer those who mistakenly argue that these demands are inherently anti-capitalist and that the women’s movement is therefore somehow implicitly socialist.

Capitalism is a system of society based on the exploitation of wage and salary earners for a profit. All wealth, including that portion which under capitalism takes the form of profits, is produced by the application of human labour power to Nature-given materials. The more productive workers are, the more profits they can produce. This is why capitalism as an economic system is not interested in the language or the skin colour or the sex of workers; it is interested only in their productive capacity.

Capitalist employers are now coming to realise that discrimination against women denies them a huge source of productive talent which they could be using to increase their profits; how many women who would make good mechanics, engineers or scientists are denied the opportunity to work in these fields because of out-dated prejudices and practices inherited from the patriarchal societies that preceded capitalism (and which capitalism was itself in its early days when family businesses were the predominant form) and from the religious dogmas that went with them?

This is why modern capitalism could easily tolerate, in fact would positively welcome, equality of opportunity for women in the labour-market. It could also tolerate even the radical changes in family structures that achieving this fully would have to involve. Despite the dubiously scientific psychology of those who argue with Wilhelm Reich that capitalism requires the patriarchal family in order to breed the authoritarian and repressed personalities needed to prevent people challenging it, capitalism could — and does — accept what used to be called “free unions” in which the man and woman don’t bother to get a licence from the state or church to live together and in which they treat each other as equal partners. Indeed the vast majority of those who practice this — which of course will be the basis of relations between the sexes in socialism — are not socialists but supporters of capitalism and even members of the capitalist class itself.

Capitalism, in other words, could "liberate” women if "liberation” is to be restricted to meaning the equal treatment of women with men on the labour-market and, as a condition for this, in the home too. If this is seen as a step forward for women even within capitalism, it does not represent the real liberation of women.

If we accepted that it is then we would have to accept that men — or rather, to be precise, those men, the great majority, who are forced to work for a wage or salary to gain a living, the men of the working class — are already liberated. Which denies that capitalism is a system based on the exploitation and oppression of the working class in which the producers are wage slaves in the sense that they are economically dependent on the class of capitalist employers to whom they must sell their mental and physical energies in order to live. The implementation of the full programme of the women’s movement would leave women equal wage slaves with men.

Real liberation for the women and men of the working class can only be achieved through the establishment of socialism — by the conversion of the means of production and distribution into common property under the democratic control of the whole community. On this basis the wages system — working for an employer for a wage or salary — would be abolished and the production and distribution of wealth proceed on the basis of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs". Women and men would cooperate with each other in order to produce an abundance of wealth to which they would then individually have free access according to need. Individual free access for all members of society, including women and children, to consumer goods and services will put an end once and for ever to the economic dependence of women on men and of children on parents which so poisons relationships today.

In socialism women would participate equally in the running of every aspect of social life. An equality of women with men is, we have argued, theoretically compatible with capitalism but it would then only be an equality in wage slavery, leaving untouched the fundamental inequality between the women and men of the capitalist class on the other. Women's equality will only acquire real meaning in socialism where all humanity would be liberated, freed from the economic slavery of the wages system and from the inevitably anti-human operation of capitalism and its production for profit. This is why we argue that real “women’s liberation’’ can only be achieved as part of the general human liberation that the establishment of socialism will bring.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not support the women’s movement nor advocate its demands, not because we are necessarily opposed to the demands but because it is our general policy not to advocate reforms of capitalism however desirable they may seem.

As a matter of fact we agree entirely with the philosophy behind the women’s movement that women are not inferior to men and should be treated as equal human beings. This is an integral part of the socialist case, dating from the early part of the 19th century when the Utopian Socialists were amongst the pioneers of women’s equality.

So we don’t advocate women’s equality under capitalism because we don’t advocate reforms of any kind. And we don’t advocate reforms because we don’t want to attract the support of people who merely want to reform some aspect or other of capitalism. History has shown that parties which try to combine advocating reforms with advocating socialism end up by becoming reformist organisations which forget altogether about socialism.

If we were to advocate equality for women under capitalism we would run the risk of attracting the support of those who wanted this change without wanting socialism. That this would be a real danger can be seen from our demonstration above that not one of the demands of the women’s movement is incompatible with capitalism. To the extent of course that we succeed in propagating socialist ideas we combat prejudice and discrimination against women under capitalism, since becoming a socialist involves among other things discarding such prejudices and practices. The spread of socialist ideas under capitalism will thus help breakdown prejudice and discrimination against women. But it will also pave the way towards the establishment of socialism which will, in the words of Clause Four of our Declaration of Principles, mean the “emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex”.
Adam Buick

The Questions 
They Ask (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Questioner: Mr. Speaker, would you please explain ‘Surplus Value’?

Speaker: Surplus Value is unpaid labour. It is work the worker NEVER gets paid for. How can that be? Quite simply. Workers today produce much more value than is required to maintain themselves and family. Let’s say a person works 40 hours a week, 5 days — 8 hours a day. Right. Now, 4 of those hours are the value of their wages, 4 of them go straight to the capitalist, as the sole source of profit. This has all been worked out in typical, rather long-winded German professorial fashion by Marx ("Capital” page 216; Kerr edition), using actual figures of the accounts of the cotton mill managed by his friend Engels. (And he should have known, being a successful mill manager on a salary and 10% of the profits), Marx therefore divided the day into “Necessary” and ‘Surplus” Labour. Necessary — for the worker, “Surplus” — for the Company.

Some people think that Surplus Value is the same as Profit, including some ignorant Trade Union leaders. It is NOT — Surplus Value is the ration of unpaid to paid labour — 4 to 4, or 5 to 3 hours, etc. Profit is what the firm has left, after paying everything: wages, rent, raw materials, taxes, and so on. So what with the investment of £100, Surplus Value could be 100%, i.e. 50 to 50, but profit only 10% — 90 to 10.

Next question . . .