Thursday, December 7, 2023

Voice From The Back: Cold and skint (2010)

The Voice From The Back Column from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cold and skint 

One of the illusions that seems to persist about capitalism is that in Britain it is gradually getting a little bit better, but the facts contradict that notion. “The number of households struggling to afford to stay warm has more than doubled in the past six years according to official figures. An extra 2.5 million homes have gone into fuel poverty since 2004, a report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change said. Homes are defined as living in fuel poverty if they have to spend more than 10 per cent of their income to maintain a minimum temperature of 21C in their main living area.” (Times, 15 October) “Almost two-thirds of older people in Northern Ireland cannot afford to heat their home through the winter, it has been revealed. The fuel poverty rate among people aged over 60 is up 15% on four years ago and now stands at 60.5%, according to the latest House Conditions Survey. The study conducted by the Housing Executive shows that the situation is even worse for older people living on their own – with almost four-fifths officially designated as living in fuel poverty.  (Independent, 28 October) Amidst all these bureaucratic figures one thing is obvious, during the last six years more working class kids and old folk have had to go to bed shivering. This is progress?.

Big bucks ballot

Defenders of American capitalism are fond of claiming that it is a model of  democracy in action. It is however a strange sort of democracy wherein money is the real dictator. Take the election campaign of Meg Whitman for the California Governorship. “With nearly two weeks to go before the election the eBay billionaire’s campaign to become chief executive of California has already smashed all records. At $140 million (£89 million) it is the most expensive non-presidential campaign in American history and the deepest any candidate has ever delved to fund their campaign.” (Times, 25 October). There is nothing unique in large corporations pouring millions of dollars into election campaigns, but in this case we have an individual spending a grotesque amount that represents about $8.24 for every one of California’s 17 million registered voters. Her opponent has spent a “mere” $20 million, that is just over a $1 a voter. Surely this is a weird sort of democracy.

Profits before safety

In their ruthless pursuit of bigger and bigger profits the owning class care little for human life or the pollution of the planet, but even by their standards the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico illustrated a complete contempt for humanity in capitalism’s efforts to cheapen production costs. “The companies involved in drilling the BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico were aware that the cement they used to seal the well before it blew out was unstable. That is the conclusion of a US presidential panel investigating the reasons behind the April 20 explosion and ensuing oil leak. Both BP and the US company Halliburton had received test results on the cement showing it to be unstable – but neither acted on the data.” (The Week, 29 October) All the companies involved are trying to shift the blame for the explosion  on to each other, but the truth is that capitalism by its very nature causes such disasters. Capitalism, lets face it  – is a disaster!

Another illusion goes

One of the illusions about capitalism that its supporters are always proclaiming is that it is a ruthlessly efficient society that rewards honesty and punishes double-dealing. It is not a view shared by the capitalist class themselves as illustrated by this recent European Commission report.. “The European Commission has fined 11 of the world’s largest airlines £799 million for their part in a conspiracy to fix the price of cargo shipments. British Airways is among the carriers to be fined and has been ordered to pay a 104 million euro (£90 million) penalty.” (Times, 10 November) The capitalist class are fond of lecturing workers about honesty, but when extra profits can be realised they are not adverse to a bit of sharp practice.

Pathfinders: Doubleplusungood (2010)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Orwell as can be expected…

The UK science community has been heaving a small sigh of relief lately having suffered less damage than expected from the spending cuts. True, the boffins are facing a funding freeze, keeping their £4.6bn budget at 2010 levels for the next 5 years, meaning a probable cut through inflation of around 10 percent in real terms, however this is as nothing compared to the mass cattle-trucking of scientific projects in the direction of the knacker’s yard that many had expected. But before the techies had even reached for a pipette of champers in celebration they were sobered by the further alarming news that the director general for science and research, the official in charge of that science budget and traditionally from respectable scientific stock, could soon be replaced by a – gasp – civil servant (‘UK research spending decisions set for a shake-up’, New Scientist online, 17 November).

It would be a mystery to anyone who has been following the Orwellian tactics of the Con-Dem Coalition lately why scientists should be shocked at this. Indeed, despite what they may think, they have still got off lightly. It could have been far worse.

A miasma of doublethink pervades the Con-Dem Coalition’s every political pronouncement as they manoeuvre to secure their grubby rich friends every concession while bamboozling their victims into believing that they are the ones getting more ‘freedoms’. Home Secretary Theresa May, for example, has been loudly ridiculing the Equality legislation planned by that silly Harriet Har-person, claiming that inequality somehow makes you free (‘Theresa May scraps equality in the name of fairness’, Guardian, 17 November). The Equality Duty was designed to end decades of legal confusion in which victims of discrimination had virtually no chance of redress against big corporations, and instead to place the responsibility on employers to demonstrate through good practice that they were not discriminating in the workplace, a kind of guilty-until-proved innocent reversal of emphasis. Instead, in a spin of doubletalk, May uses the very failures of the old legislation to argue against any new legislation that might potentially solve the problem. In the name of fairness, the bosses get themselves off the hook and discriminated groups can look forward to having to make all the running to get anyone to listen to them – just as it’s always been. They are free to complain, and the bosses are free to ignore them, which is what the Coalition means by freedom.
Similarly emancipated are workers everywhere on medication, as the Government cuts the cojones from the drug regulatory body the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and hands prescription powers entirely to GPs. No longer shall poor old Mrs Jones be denied the £30,000 treatment that might have kept her in miserable pain for an extra six weeks, because that demonic nest of Doctor Deaths at NICE considered it not worth the money – now any GP can prescribe anything! Anything, that is, that their budget can afford and that they can be badgered or bluffed or blackmailed into buying by the omni-present pharmaceutical salesmen. No more Mr NICE Guy, now it’s Mr Market and drugs for whoever can pay the most and shout the loudest.
 Best to stay healthy and away from doctors then, but in that case you’ll be taking advice on how to stay healthy from the very businesses which have always devoted so much of their time and your money in making you unhealthy in the first place. With a cynicism that could collapse lungs, the Health Secretary has given up the usual murky practice of consulting with big business behind closed doors before making health policy, and handed the power of policy-making entirely over to the businesses. In what is one of the most blatant displays of English Tea Partyism, and in a broadside designed to de-mast the dreaded Food Standards Agency, Andrew Lansley has set up new ‘responsibility deal’ networks to deal with obesity, alcoholism, exercise, behavioural problems and health and safety at work, in which key consultants are members of Unilever, the Wine and Spirit Trade Organisation, Mars, all big supermarkets and a raft of other commercial interests not famous for their health credentials. In the craven old days, a minister would at least formulate policy first and then run it past these moguls to see what he could get away with. In the galloping gutlessness of the new order, Lansley has simply invited the moguls to come up with their proposals and run them past him, in order to see what he can get past the media. An early casualty of this supine approach has been the abandonment of the simple and easy to understand ‘traffic light’ nutritional coding system in favour of a different system known through studies to be incomprehensible to customers, despite the fact that some supermarkets had already agreed to give the traffic light system a try (‘Good for the nation’s health – or big business?’ Guardian, 13 November).

What next, one wonders? The handing of UK defence policy to the arms industry perhaps. Meanwhile the doublethink redoubles as public sector workers are being liberated from their jobs and told that they have the freedom to take over their former workplaces and run them as ‘John Lewis co-operatives’, after the style of the mutualised department store. Taking the name of this column cruelly in vain Francis Maude, the minister in the Cabinet Office in charge of civil servants, has launched 12 ‘Pathfinder’ initiatives, fledgling public-service but employee-owned mutuals who are the supposed trailblazers for a new era in which all responsibilities formerly borne by the state will now be borne by social workers and health visitors running their own co-ops. As Thatcher gave us ‘right-to-buy’, Maude is giving us ‘right-to-run’, but not everyone is fooled by the spin. As some pundits point out, such co-ops will have a huge uphill struggle, and most will collapse and be eaten up by, yes, you guessed it, the big corporations. And what is so liberating about exposing public services to the free market anyway? wonders Unite General Secretary Tony Woodley: “You go to John Lewis to buy a sofa or a fridge, not to have chemotherapy” (Guardian, 17 November)

In view of these developments, the science community should think itself lucky it’s only getting a civil servant to administer its budget. In a year from now it could be a McDonalds executive. The proof that capitalism is fundamentally not good for healthy science or the science of health is made clearer by the fact that, although government regulation solves none of the basic problems facing science in a money age, the further the drift towards an unregulated free market, the worse it gets for science, as indeed for everyone else.
Paddy Shannon

Santa’s New Clauses (2010)

A Short Story from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Memo to: Little Helpers Team Leaders
To be cascaded to all staff

Dear Colleagues

As we approach our busy season I feel it only fair to remind you of the financial difficulties we find ourselves in as a result of the on-going recession. As you know, the juvenile gratuity market is experiencing heavy turbulence and we are committed to making savings wherever possible. As your Chief Executive I am setting a personal example by reducing my 2.6% annual growth in intake of mince pies and sherry by approximately 0.8%, phased in over the next fifteen years.

Certain scurrilous tabloid newspapers have been spreading unsubstantiated rumours that I have awarded myself a bonus of ten million pounds. Rest assured this is utterly unsubstantiated. In fact it was a modest seven million pounds ‘performance & productivity’ reward – which reflects well on all of us, by the way! – plus one million for the Management Consultation exercise with myself, one million in stress-related compensation for writing this, and one million in shares which may go down as well as up.

Needless to say, our core business strategy still revolves around putting children first, and Management has agreed a bold new plan to ensure our competitiveness in the difficult times ahead:
  • To enhance efficiency and fairness we must recognise that unfairness is more efficient, and thus end the practice of a Universal Entitlement to Presents..
  • The work-shy must play their part in maintaining the true spirit of Christmas. It is hardly fair on taxpayers that those on benefits who refuse to work for nothing should continue to expect presents for their children.
  • We will no longer be delivering free chocolate to children in hot countries – it only melts. Instead we will introduce a fair trade agreement – their arable land in exchange for toy guns, pistols, machetes and napalm.
  • You may have heard that those spiteful Fire Fighters threatened to go on strike on Bonfire Night, which would have spoiled the fun for so many young ones – obviously it wouldn’t be right to reward their young ones this Christmas!
Meanwhile, let’s remember that special group who have had a very tough time lately and borne it all without complaint. Our hard-working Cabinet ministers and Captains of Industry in the C.B.I (Collect Bank Interest) have taken courageous and selfless decisions in order to resuscitate our ailing economy – a task which has earned them No Thanks Whatsoever from the ungrateful population – their children deserve our special kindness this Yuletide. With the money saved from the undeserving, we can afford to pay all these children through £9,000 pa college courses!

With all of us making sacrifices, here’s where you can play your part in making Christmas special for certain children the world over. The great news is that you get to keep your jobs, on condition that you agree to certain new terms and conditions. Your friends in the Reindeer Union have already welcomed these new clauses with open legs and the abattoir sub-provision has not been invoked even once!

There will be a downward restructuring of wages, holiday and sick pay entitlements to zero while the statutory retirement age will be infinitely extended so that now you work for eternity.

Failure to accept this generous offer will necessitate the immediate relocation of the Grotto and Workshop to New Zealand where all staff will be replaced by sub-minimum-wage Hobbits.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Ho, ho, ho, and have a Merry Austerity,



Letter: Capitalism’s limits? (2010)

Letter to the Editors from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

Capitalism is reaching its expansionary limits and being driven by these limits to substitute saturation for expansion. It is turning inward and “eating out its own guts”. The result is “barbarism”. 

“Normal” capitalism generated profits through expansion (growth). Apart from some margin for maneuver in near-earth outer space, it no longer has room for profitable expansion. This drives the system to “expand” inward, deriving profits from forcing down production costs by cutting wages, forcing more family members onto the labour market, and imposing higher productivity levels on workers (intensified exploitation), thereby increasing the quantity of commodities but degrading their quality. Here again, force is an essential factor.

As Rosa Luxemburg wrote in The Accumulation of Capital in 1913, capitalism always needs an “outside” somewhere. Although material conditions have changed since Rosa’s time, this remains true in a “metaphorically substantive” sense. 

With capitalism expanded to its spatial limits and turned inward, exploitation and profits grow apace. The biosphere, however, is a fixed system of reproduction. It took “time out of mind” to generate the hydrocarbon fuels that production for profit has consumed in the course of less than 200 years. It is true that “biological resources, if rationally exploited, are renewable and therefore practically everlasting” (Standard, November 2010, p. 6). But globalised capitalism does not follow a rational logic and already has a toe in the waters of barbarism. Socialists must be the lifeguards on this shore: there is no alternative to socialism.
Joe R. Hopkins, 
Florida, USA.

As we pointed out in a reply to a letter in the September issue, Rosa Luxemburg’s book was based on a faulty analysis of capitalism even if its descriptive parts about the barbaric effect of the spread of capitalism are good. We don’t accept that capitalism does have any “spatial limit” – Editors.

Pieces Together: Pay Up or Burn Down (2010)

The Pieces Together column from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pay Up or Burn Down                                          

“A small rural community in western Tennessee is outraged and the fire chief is nursing a black eye after firefighters stood by and watched a mobile home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 municipal fee. South Fulton city firefighters – equipped with trucks, hoses and other firefighting equipment – didn’t intervene to save Gene Cranick’s doublewide trailer home when it caught fire last week. But they did arrive on the scene to protect the house of a neighbor, who had paid his fire subscription fee. ‘I just forgot to pay my $75,’ said Cranick.  ‘I did it last year, the year before. … It slipped my mind.’ Later that day, Cranick’s son Timothy went to the fire station to complain, and punched the fire chief in the face.” (AOL News, 6 October)

The Rich Get Richer                                           

“The shift of income to the top has occurred in the most prosperous English-speaking nations, such as Australia, Britain, and Canada. But it has been most pronounced in the United States. Thirty years ago, the richest 1 percent of Americans got 9 percent of total national income. By 2007, they had 23 percent. Last year, new census data show, the rich-poor income gap was the widest on record. Wealth is more unevenly distributed. The top 20 percent of wealth-holders own 84 percent of America’s wealth.” (Christian Science Monitor, 18 October)

Capital Gains

“The bosses of Britain’s largest companies are enjoying lavish pay rises despite the wobbly economic recovery, with most of the surge in rewards coming from long-term incentive schemes and gains from share options. The chief executives of FTSE 100 companies have seen their pay surge by 55% in a year, according to a report released yesterday by research group Incomes Data Services (IDS), while across the top 350 listed companies, total board pay rose by an average of 45%.” (Guardian, 29 October)

Situations Vacant                                          

“In Baltimore this weekend more than a hundred Roman Catholic bishops and priests gathered to discuss a skills shortage within their congregation; it seems there are simply not enough exorcists. Just as US industry has suffered a lack of engineers, the number of men capable of casting out demons has declined, even as demand for their services has increased. In parts of the country they are now harder to find than a good plumber.” (Times, 15 November)

Tiny (URL) Tips (2010)

The Tiny Tips column from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The corporate clout of the mining industry trumped political ideology in Canada when members of all political parties helped to narrowly defeat a bill late last month that would have imposed standards on Canadian mining companies operating in developing countries:
[Dead Link.]

Up to 200,000 Haitians could contract cholera as the outbreak which has already killed 800 is set to spread across the battered Caribbean nation of nearly 10 million, the United Nations said:
[Yahoo News, Dead Link.]

A Christian woman has been sentenced to hang in Pakistan after being convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed:
[Daily Telegraph, Dead Link.]

Unemployed workers will be barred from claiming benefits for up to three years if they repeatedly refuse job offers under radical plans to reform the welfare system:
[Daily Telegraph, Dead Link.]

Israel will begin constructing a barrier on its border with Egypt within the next two weeks. The government has said that the central purpose of this fence is to keep the growing number of illegal migrants from infiltrating the country:

Six years after it first debuted, the $1,000 frittata at Norma’s in New York’s Le Parker Meridien hotel continues to draw attention. Called the “Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata”, the dish is made with six eggs, lobster claws and 10 oz. of Sevruga caviar:
[Fox Business News, Dead Link.]

Poor ‘Will be pushed out of southern England'. Bath, Chelmsford, Newbury and Maidstone are among towns that will become “no-go” areas for the poor within 15 years because of the coalition government’s plans to cut housing benefits. The claim, made by the Chartered Institute of Housing, followed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention. He said he was worried by the proposal of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to threaten the long-term unemployed with benefit cuts:
[The Week, Dead Link.]

Some 42,389,619 Americans received food stamps in August, a 17% rise from the same time a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which tracks the data. That number is up 58.5% from August 2007, before the recession began. By population, Washington, D.C. had the largest share of residents receiving food stamps: More than a fifth, 21.1%, of its residents collected assistance in August. Washington was followed by Mississippi, where 20.1% of residents received food stamps, and Tennessee, where 20% tapped into the government nutrition program:

Revolutionary (2010)

Book Review from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary. By Ngo Van. Eds. Ken Knabb and Hélène Fleury. AK Press, 2010.

This book preserves the memory of a part of the history of the class struggle that might otherwise be lost. The author, Ngo Van, was born in 1912 in a village in what was then called Cochinchina – the southernmost of the three sections into which the French colonialists divided Vietnam. He came to maturity at a time of social upheaval. Peasants rose up against landlords and tax collectors, workers struck against atrocious conditions (the death rate on the rubber plantations reached 40 percent a year), and demonstrators demanded independence from France. These rebellions, and their savage repression by the colonial regime, are vividly portrayed in the memoir.

The political groups involved in the upheaval were very diverse. The Stalinist Vietminh were active, especially in the countryside, but there were many other anti-colonial movements that were not yet under their control. In the cities there were also several Trotskyist organizations. Chance contacts and revulsion against the regimentation within the Vietminh drew Ngo Van to Trotskyism and in 1935 he helped to establish a new Trotskyist group – the League of Internationalist Communists.

The Vietnamese Trotskyists were caught literally in the crossfire, hunted down both by the Sûreté (French colonial security police), who tortured and jailed them, and by the Vietminh, who simply killed them. The author was one of the few who survived by escaping abroad. From 1948 until his death in 2005 he lived in France.

While earning a living as an electrician, he remained politically active. In retirement he wrote extensively, mostly on Vietnamese folklore and Vietnamese and Chinese history. Several volumes of his work have been published in French; this is the first to appear in English.

In France Ngo Van progressed beyond Trotskyism to council communism. Articles that he wrote in 1968 on Third World struggles and the war in Vietnam are included in the book and express a point of view very similar to that of the World Socialist Movement. The book also contains helpful background notes and many photos, sketches and paintings by the author, who besides his other talents was an accomplished artist.

Front Cover: Stalin - the God who fell (1961)

The Front Page of the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

I don't usually make a habit of dedicating a post to the front cover of a Socialist Standard but, in this case, the Editorial Committee obviously thought it was important to lay out some information on the front cover to pass comment on the Kremlinology of the day.

The picture on the front cover of the December 1961 Socialist Standard dates from March 1953 and it features the then Soviet Communist Party grandees standing guard around the body of Stalin who was lying in state. The text in the top right hand corner of the page above the picture names the grandees and their current political status in 1961:
SCENE: MOSCOW MARCH 1953 The eight most powerful men in Russia stand guard beside the body of their late chief - Stalin.

Dramatis Personae 
Left to right                Status December 1961

Molotov                  Ex foreign Minister (in disgrace)
Voroshilov          Ex President (in disgrace)
Beria                         Late Minister of Interior (shot as traitor)
Malenkov                  Ex Prime Minister (in disgrace) 
The Corpse              The God who fell
Bulganin                   Ex Prime Minister (in disgrace) 
Khruschev                Prime Minister (future?) 
Kaganovitch             Ex Vice-President (in disgrace) 
Mikoyan                  Deputy Prime Minister (future?)
In the bottom right hand corner of the front cover there is a quote from the article, From Lenin to Stalin by Ted Wilmott, which appeared in the April 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard:
From the Socialist Standard April 1953 
Maintenance of power at any price became for the Communist Party a matter of life and death. On a chequer board of political tactics the Old Bolshevik moved, mated and stayed, until the assumption of power rested in one man — Stalin . . . It was Stalin who completed the work begun by Lenin, the turning of Marxism a revolutionary doctrine into its opposite, an authoritarian ideology of state capitalism on a par and at times competing with other state ideologies, i.e. Hitler's National "Socialism" and Mussolini's Corporate State.

The front cover headline, Stalin - the God who fell, was the title of that month's editorial

News in Review: Rising Prices (1961)

The News in Review column from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rising Prices

Remember those big balloons splashed all over the hoardings about ten years ago?

Remember what they said?

This was their message: The Conservatives will stop the rise in prices.

An effective appeal, at the time. Money wages had shot up to undreamt of heights, but the voters were disappointed to find that prices accompanied them upwards. This wrecked the pre-war mirage of a glorious prosperity based on high wages.

For this reason, among others, the Tories came back in triumph to Westminster. A lot has happened since then and a lot has been forgotten; especially promises about reducing prices.

So the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had no need to tremble when he recently informed the House of Commons that, taking the purchasing power of the £1 as twenty shillings when the Tories got back in October, 1951, that same £1 note was now worth only 14s. 6d. A strange result of ten years of bringing down prices!

Naturally, the government have any number of excuses for their failure to keep their election promises. Most of them amount to the argument that they have been helpless in economic conditions outside their control.

This, of course, is not valid. The Conservative promise in 1951 that they would stabilise prices was in fact a claim that they could control Capitalism's economic tricks. Like others before them, they have failed.

Not that the government need worry. The workers have forgotten the rosy promises of 1951 and are now being bemused by the prospect of the £1,000 a year dustman. Capitalism will really start shaking when the workers despise all promises as worthless.

Strike at Margam

We might have expected some juicy headlines about the striker at Margam Steel Works, who turned up at the labour exchange in his Jaguar and parked it in amongst the smart cars of his fellow-strikers.

The pictures and the stories in the press were presumably intended to undermine the strikers’ case by suggesting that men who can afford to run a car have no need to strike.

This argument ignores one or two facts.

The bricklayers at Margam were engaged in unpleasant and dangerous work which put their health in great hazard. The Steel Company of Wales had agreed to the bricklayers doing this work under the “job and finish" rule and had allowed this rule to spread to men on a few other types of work.

Then S.C.O.W. decided that they were losing out on the deal and tried to change the rules. )

The company cannot be blamed for attempting to defend their interests. Neither can the bricklayers be criticised for resisting an effort to impose a severe wage cut and a dangerous worsening of their working conditions.

For this sort of conflict is inevitable in Capitalism, with its population split into two groups whose interests are opposed.

The Margam strike, and the strikers' fast cars, drives the point home. Workers must always fight for their interests under Capitalism—even under what is called Affluent Capitalism.

Nothing makes any difference to this —not even the ownership of a car.

Fifty Megatons

Why did the Russians do it? It is an absorbing, if chilling, occupation to speculate upon the reasons for the thirty and fifty megaton explosions.

Was it to prove a point for Krushchev in the current struggle in the Kremlin over the diversion of industrial resources? Was it designed to get something moving in the perilous deadlock in Berlin? Or to make the Chinese sit up and take notice that Russia is much the more powerful country?

The bombs could have been let off as a move in any, or all, of these conflicts. It will be a long time, if ever, before we find out the reason.

One thing is certain now, for all to see. The conflicts are typical of Capitalism in the 'Sixties—and so are the bombs. And this could mean more bombs, more radioactivity, perhaps even bombs dropped in anger.

Is this the world gone mad, as the nuclear disarmed think? In fact, there is a terrible sanity about it. Capitalism has always had its wars and. political disputes—who can expect it not to have the necessary weapons to settle its disputes?

But Capitalism has also always had its workers who are willing to support the system, although they may bemoan the horrors which it continually produces.

It is no getaway for them now to say that the bomb tests are a great, inhuman mistake, or the work of a callous government

Capitalism means fear and insecurity for the people of the world And this will go on until the people realise it and do something about it.

After the Motor Show

The Motor Show has been and gone. The bright lights of Earls Court are dimmed and the hectic publicity is over. Now come the harsh realities of trying to sell all the cars that were so enthusiastically praised.

As at all Motor Shows, there was the usual optimistic talk of large orders and encouraging sales. The big car-hire firms carefully saved their orders to coincide with the Show, as they do every year, and all the manufacturers expressed satisfaction with the Show. Nobody with any knowledge of the trade was deceived.

Apart perhaps from Jaguars, who did very well, all the manufacturers know that the struggle is going to be hard and that it will probably get worse before it gets better—if in fact it does. Motor sales have now reverted to their previous seasonal pattern and for the second winter running sales have gone into decline.

Of the Big Five, BMC and Ford are probably the least affected, but they also have their troubles. BMC's best seller is the Mini-minor, but they themselves have admitted that the ratio of profit on these is small. They have to sell a lot to make the balance-sheet look reasonable, let alone brilliant. Yet in overseas markets. at least those in which there is no favourable tariff to help, them, Mini-minors are too dear to compete effectively with the home products of similar size. Price is also a handicap to Fords, but they have apparently decided nevertheless that the only way to get a foothold in such markets is to cut their prices. They have admitted, for instance, that they are selling some Anglias at cost so as to make an impression on the French market It is more likely that after paying transport costs they arc selling at a loss.

And Abroad

All the other big national producers have also held their Shows and are faced with the same problems. France had no less than three completely new small cars at the Paris Show which can only mean tremendous competition within the country and added threats to those outside. Volkswagen had their new larger car on show at Frankfurt, but are nevertheless continuing to turn out the old model at the fantastic rate of 4,200 a day. In yearly terms this is something like 800- 900 thousand, about the same as the whole of British production will be this year. Italian car production is also rising rapidly, whilst at the same time they are thinking of steps to keep out steadily mounting imports. All these countries have plans similar to those of the British manufacturers to expand output.

One thing they must all be wondering is how they are going to dispose of this output. It will be interesting to see how things develop during the next few months. There may be surprises in store.

U.S. & Common Market

One of the most surprising news-items of the month has been the report that the United States may have to consider joining the European Common Market. Further information is that President Kennedy intends to press for a freer trade policy and get rid of restrictive trade laws.

Yet only 15 years ago European Capitalism had almost been written off by the U.S. Even the vast quantities of dollar aid that were poured into Europe were given more as an emergency stop-gap against Russia than in any expectation of a revival. Western Europe, in the eyes of American Capitalism, was “finished.”

But the old-in-the-tooth Capitalists of Europe were not finished. One hundred and fifty years' experience of exploiting the working class was still there to form the basis for revival. Now the countries of the Common Market are a threat to American Capitalism and, if Britain also joins, this threat will really be formidable.

The United Stales is in fact in a very similar position to that of the U.K. a few months ago. British Capitalist is now trying to get into the Common Market and, if it succeeds, the new lineup will only step up the pressure on the U.S. to follow suit.

What a change in the short space of 15 years! When people ask us how long it will be before Socialism is established. do they ever stop to think how quickly things arc now changing under Capitalism?

Is this progress? (1961)

From the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is, as we know, a vast Industry of Words which works flat out to justify and sustain the Capitalist system of society. One of the comfortable assumptions which this Industry uses to oil its wheels is that the present time (whenever that may be) is one of enlightened civilisation. A Japanese steel company, for example, advertises its products to Western businessmen in the following terms:
The glow of the golden ’Sixties. The promise of the ’Sixties is a challenge to the imagination. How will the people benefit from the marvellous advances that are foreseeable?
And so on. The advertisement may not be intended for a wide readership, but the point it tries to make is pretty general. The present is a good time to be living in. The past is rather doubtful —mistakes were made, foolish things were done, or foolishly left undone. Now, we have learnt our lesson.

How true is this? Was the period between the two World Wars, for example, any better than that since 1945? The 'Twenties were certainly a classical period of cynicism and disillusionment. Strangely the boys in Fleet Street and Tin Pan Alley, who are good at such things, have always found it difficult to revive any popular nostalgia for the period. Perhaps it is because the frantic dances, the weird hair styles and clothes and what they called the “new morality" — although goodness knows there was nothing new about it—were the reactions of a generation bewildered by one of the most dreadful wars in history.

The tiniest village in England can show its memorial to a shockingly long list of young men who died in that war. And they died in such awful ways. They drowned in the mud at Paschendaele, they were slaughtered by the Turkish infantry at Gallipoli. It was so different from what everybody had been expecting when the British workers swarmed cheering into the streets on August 4th, 1914. Few among those delirious crowds could have foreseen the long, bloody anguish that quickly deprived them of all desire to cheer.

The Twenties saw what politician’s promises are worth. During the war there was no lack of well-kept ministers to assure the people who were actually doing the dying that they did not suffer for nothing. Some of the emptiest of the promises and the silliest of the blather have gone down in history and are still remembered with sardonic smiles. For there are still plenty of men who can recall coming home from the trenches to join the long queues at the labour exchanges, There are still bitter memories of the Means Test—so much so that the very name has political danger—and of official tricks like the "Not Genuinely Seeking Work” clause which were meant to deprive the unemployed of even the pitifully small dole. The Twenties were a time of brutal Capitalist reality. Who can be surprised that people were bewildered and cynical?

As the years turned into the Thirties there opened the long list of international conflicts—the invasion of China, the attack on Abyssinia, the German expansion in Europe—which led up to the Second World War. And the Thirties had the supreme example of cynicism and despair.

It is difficult adequately to explain why Fascism was so popular in Germany and not in other countries in which conditions were broadly the same. Whatever the explanation for this, there is one thing which can be said. Fascism, with its reliance upon the strong man leader theory and its extreme racialism, is the desperate product of despair. An unemployed man, or a man who cannot find a home for this family, is easy prey for the first rabble rouser who will point a finger at the Negro and say that he is filling all the jobs and living in all the houses. Or perhaps the Jew comes under the lash because, says the racialist, he owns the country and so controls what goes on in it. This is so obviously a doctrine of ignorance and despair that simply to state it is to expose its weaknesses. But when ignorant workers are having Capitalism’s problems thrown in their faces, and when they are shocked and bewildered and desperate, it is just the sort of theory that can find favour with them. That is part, at any rate, of the explanation for the rise of Fascism in Europe and of the astounding, dreadful things that it did there.

It is not wonderful, then, that some people recall the years between the wars with a shudder, as rather like a bad illness which came to its crisis in 1939. Many political commentators—and the Labour Party, naturally—like to write off those years as the devilish work of That Man Baldwin who, they say, was content to suck his pipe and gaze at his pigs in Worcestershire while the rest of the world decayed around him. Baldwin was certainly an unflappable Prime Minister, a long time before the word got pinned on to Supermac. He was an astute politician who played the game as dirtily as he had to. But to blame him for a whole period of brutality is to side step the facts. Because when Baldwin wits gone, hated and derided, the world went on the same merry way.

The Second World War may not have shocked, in the social sense, as harshly as its predecessor did. But it lacked nothing in barbarity. There has, for example, recently been published the details of the great wartime bombing controversy between Tizard and Lindemann. These men were highly trained scientists who hardly seemed able to avoid arguing. One of their bitterest clashes was over the question of whether the Royal Air Force should have bombed German civilians. Neither of them argued that it would be callous, even by their lights, to deliberately attack a civilian population. They fought over whether the air force was capable of doing the job and whether, if it was done, it would have any considerable effect on the German war effort. There is no need to suppose that either man had an emotional case; both of them went into it armed with cold calculations in terror and destruction.

While this was going on, the politicians were soothing us with their promises, some of which are supposed to have been fulfilled in the so-called Affluent Society. ''Affluence" means that workers, apart from a few million in the USA and Canada and a few hundred thousand in this and other countries, are fairly secure in their jobs. Some can buy a car—sometimes even a new one. They can take on the lifetime burden of a mortgage on a house—because they have given up hope of getting one by any other method. How affluent can poverty get?

And do not let us forget the shadow under which the Affluent Society has. grown up. Almost since the end of the last war, the world has been split into two great armed camps in dispute over the exploitation of markets and the possession of raw materials. The politicians have made countless threatening speeches. The Russians have let off their massive bombs and promised us that we have only seen a half of it. The American Secretary of Defence has replied that his country's military power is virtually irresistible. The Affluent Society eats its food and breathes its air only after they have been soiled by the fallout. The world is as full of fear as ever.

There are plenty of organisations to complain about this. At a recent conference of the World Parliament Association. the organisation's secretary-general drew some tempting pictures of the benefits which he thinks would result if some of the £1,600 million a year being spent on armaments by the British government were diverted to other uses. For £150 million every family in the country could be decently housed within twenty years. For £200 million the roads could be improved, possibly to save 20,000 lives a year. Anybody can do this sort of arithmetic. The point is, why don't governments divert their country's money into houses, roads, and so on?

We all know the politicians' answer to that one. Of course, they murmur, it is all very regrettable. Nothing would please us more if we could pack up making all those beastly guns and bombs and build houses instead. The trouble is we have got to live with the Russians (or the Americans, depending upon who is answering the question) and they've got a big army. If we don't watch out, they'll start moving into parts of the world where we are boss at the moment. We must have armies and weapons, you know, to stop that sort of thing.

What this means is that Capitalism is bound to throw up its disputes because it splits the world into competing economic groups. The armies, the guns, the aircraft and the bombs are there to influence the dispute and if need be to fight it out. The late Aneurin Bevan summed it up when he appealed to a Labour Party Conference some years ago not to vote to ban nuclear weapons. Such a vote, he said, would mean that if he were to become Foreign Secretary he would have to go “naked" into the conference chamber.

The nations of Capitalism must arm themselves, must coldly work out the damage and death potential of their weapons, must perpetrate some of the most barbaric acts the human race has ever experienced. Sometimes human credulity breaks under the strain of it all and we are swept into the crazy, hard- boiled Twenties. Or bewilderment fertilises ignorance and breeds the maniacal savagery of racialism. The desperate, bloody story goes on, period after period, changing perhaps its form, but never its miserable content. The Twenties and Thirties may have been bad times, but nothing that has happened since has made them look worse by comparison. Capitalism Past is no better than Capitalism Present.

The Levellers 1640-1649 (1961)

From the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The word “Leveller” was first heard in 1606 when a band of men roamed the Warwickshire countryside, uprooting or levelling fences and hedges enclosing the once-common lands. These detested barriers had been going up all over England for eighty years.

Enclosing the “waste-land” that from time immemorial had been common property brought increasing misery to the poor and greater .wealth to the rich. Large areas were turned into sheep walks to satisfy the growing demand abroad for superior English wool. In Thomas More’s Utopia we read, “ The sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame and so small eaters now as I heare say be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves.” Fresh ideas on farming and improved methods of stock-breeding made squires land-greedy. Enclosing was the polite name for stealing; people were driven from their homes to give pasture to sheep. Their only hope of survival lay in the towns, where they were fleeced even more closely than their woolly competitors.

Inventions and the necessity for larger ships meant bigger outlay and brought a demand for more money in the form of capital. A rich, powerful merchant class came into being. The first bank—the Bank of England, 1694—came with it.

The land lost much of its aristocratic value; the traditional obligations to tenant and labourer tended to disappear. The old tyrant with titles was often superseded by a new tyrant with money. Farmworkers were tricked out of rights of tenure. Though freed from the old bondage they were enslaved in a new and often terrifying system.

Throughout these tremendous changes Charles I remained obstinately feudal in outlook. Something was bound to happen. By 1628 the House of Commons was three times richer than the House of Lords. This gave its members confidence to resist the king's demands for money. So in 1629 he closed Parliament for eleven years, hoping to show his recalcitrant M.Ps. that he alone held power. But in 1639 a rebellion broke out in Scotland, and by 1640 he had been forced to recall Parliament to vote the necessary money to quell the rising. Here was the opportunity the Members had dreamed of. They knew that archaic notions of kingship must give way to a governmental system favourable to the merchants.

As a warm-up for their startling policy they executed the king’s chief minister, the Earl of Strafford, who had been raising an army in Ireland to crush Parliament. At the same time John Lilburne, leader of a “left-wing” group—the Levellers—was released from prison, where he had resided two years for issuing anti-State Church pamphlets. Now free, he got an Army command.

With this widespread opposition came a taste for democratic expression. The popularity of Cromwell's rising faction gave the Levellers a chance to speak out. How and where did they fit into the political ferment?

Parliament was divided. On the right were the Anglican Royalists, conservative and pro-Charles. On the left were the Independents, radical but not united. They were divided into a right-wing called Gentlemen Independents headed by Cromwell, Ireton, and Fairfax, and a left-wing known as the Levellers. The latter reflected the aspirations of small farmers, humbler-tradtsmen, work people and soldiers. They advocated greater political equality than the Independents and had a widespread popular support. 

In addition to political demands the civilian arm of the movement (the Diggers) urged greater economic equality; and in recognising that all political organisations and freedoms spring from or are crushed by the particular mode of land-ownership, they earned for themselves the undying hatred of Cromwell.

At this stage the Levellers were welcomed by the Radicals. All through the struggle the Levellers did best in the army, perhaps because there they were better organised than the Diggers. Both issued a considerable mass of literature, the Levellers maintaining that economic freedom followed from political freedom, and the Diggers seeing it rather the other way.

Common-ownership of the land was the bed-rock of their philosophy. Stripped of its Biblical overtones it stated a view that is still a staggering novelty to millions today. “. . . the time will be when all men shall willingly come in and give up their lands and estates and submit to the community.” They added, “and of that for money there was no need of it” (if men led communal lives). In the letter to Lord Halifax, Winstanley asked, “I demand whether all wars, bloodshed and misery came not upon creation when one man endeavoured to be a lord over another.”

In an article in the Leveller paper, The Moderate in 1649, after some men were executed for cattle-stealing, a writer suggested private property was the cause of a great deal of crime committed by the poor, “ We find,” he wrote, “some of these felons to be very civil men, and say, that if. they could have had any reasonable subsistence by friends, or otherwise they should never have taken such necessitous courses for the support of their wives and families.” The paper was suppressed after September, 1649, by “democratic” Cromwell.

The Levellers just as clearly saw that religion with its mirage of a happy future life was the carrot that encouraged the poor donkey of a labourer to stagger on. Winstanley wrote, ". . . to know God beyond the creation or to know what he will do to a man after the man is dead, in any other wise than to scatter him into his essences of fire, water, earth and air of which he is compounded (a belief handed down by the ancient Greeks) is a knowledge beyond the line or capacity of man to attain to while he lives in his compounded body.” Richard Overton, too, wrote in Man's Mortality that the idea of the soul was ridiculous.

The New Model Army (Roundheads) was Parliament’s striking force, its job to overthrow the king. But because its ranks were filled with many pro-Leveller men the Levellers saw in it a means of getting better conditions for the poor. On May 20th, 1647, “a great petition” was sent to the Commons demanding political reforms and the re-organisation of the Constitution. When the re-imprisoned Lilburne (he was in and out of gaol between 1646-1648 for various attacks on authority) heard that the common hangman had been instructed to burn it, he looked to the army for support. He declared the power of the land vested in the army, and at this point Cromwell agreed. Next, a manifesto, The Case of the Army Truly Stated, was presented to General Fairfax on October 15th, 1647, and later An Agreement of the People, which dealt more with civil matters.

Fearing the support gained by the Levellers, the Presbyterians compromised with Charles. Enraged, the Independents with the Levellers marched to London, entered the House and passed a measure to thwart any attempt to corrupt the army; the Presbyterians were crushed. Though Cromwell had been aided by the Levellers, he refused to free Lilburne. When we see what the Levellers were after, we can understand why! The Case of the Army Truly Stated listed thirteen points:
  1. New election for new parliament.
  2. House of Commons to be cleared of royalist sympathisers.
  3. Army’s supremacy to be made known officially.
  4. Excise tax to be lifted from the poor, Better tax-laws.
  5. Trials to be speeded up and improved conditions for prisoners.
  6. Greater religious tolerance.
  7. Abolition of tithes.
  8. Oath of Supremacy to be abolished.
  9. No oaths from those with conscience scruples.
  10. Law reform to enable laymen to understand legal matters.
  11. Removal of privileges. All to be subject to same laws.
  12. Enclosed land to be returned to common use.
  13. Pensions for disabled soldiers, widows and children.
The stir that these programmes made, forced Fairfax, Cromwell and the others Grandees (as they were somewhat derisively called) to allow their discussion in a series of debates held in Putney. Cromwell reasoned that if these fiery demands could be proved too extreme or impractical. Leveller influence would diminish and the threat to his supremacy would disappear. The main point was that the vote was the birthright of all men, and to this Ireton replied, “. . . voting was a property right. Only those who owned a house worth 40s a year in rent or who had a freehold interest in land should vote. The protection of private property was of the utmost importance, now that freedom had been won. Everyone was free to make money, and to own property, and the law was there to protect them while they did it.” Rainborough for the Levellers retorted that what was required in voting was reason not property. And Sexby added, “. . . as things are today unless a man has fixed property, he has no rights in England at all.”

Cromwell had the Case of the Army condemned in Parliament. Next, he set out to quell his army and persuade the least influenced to sign a pledge of loyalty at Corkbush Field, Ware, in Hertfordshire. There the Agreement of the People was presented to Fairfax. He accepted it, but told the men to go on signing and they did. But then up rode two dissenting regiments singing and wearing the Leveller colours. Immediately Cromwell drew his sword and rode angrily among them, tearing away their colours. His sudden action quietened them. The ringleaders were arrested; three were found guilty and one of these was shot.

It was a serious defeat for the Levellers. They tried resistance again, but were imprisoned and Lilburne remained in the Tower. At Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight, Charles in 1648 launched another attack (the Second Civil War). All the contesting elements of Parliament sank their differences again in preparation for the fray. The artful Presbyterians released Lilburne, hoping he would stir the army to mutiny. But he supported Cromwell, presumably regarding him as the lesser of two evils.

After the royalist defeat more discussion on the Agreement of the People followed and it actually reached Parliament, but lay in abeyance while the king’s fate was decided. On January 30th, 1649, Charles, king by the grace of God, died by the grace of the merchants.
M. Brown.

(to be concluded)