Monday, December 25, 2023

These Foolish Things: Poverty (1995)

The Scavenger column from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard


"Britain has the second lowest standard of living in western Europe after Portugal, according to a survey of incomes and living costs in Europe’s nine wealthiest countries . . . The wide variation in living standards is one reason why the governments of lower-income nations such as Britain are reluctant to embrace a single currency: it would throw a glaring spotlight on just how far Britain’s standard of living hits fallen behind those of Germany and France, say economists." 
(The Sunday Times, 17 September.)


"The Anglia Co-operative Society is being taken to an industrial tribunal by 110 of its staff alleging unfair dismissal and breach of contract. The action follows drastic changes in working practices imposed on staff at the company’s 20 East Anglian rainbow supermarkets. The shake-up hits their entitlement to pensions and maternity and sickness benefits. The 1,600 employees learned they faced a choice of having their hours cut or losing their jobs only after seeing them advertised in the local press earlier this year."
(Financial Mail on Sunday, 24 September.)


"Homeless people in Camden are being urged to “adopt a doorway” in order to qualify to vote. Labour-controlled Camden council is advising them to find themselves a “regular pitch” so they can be placed on the electoral register. But the council’s campaign is being criticised by some residents, traders and Tory councillors who fear it is open to abuse and will act as a magnet for more “homeless and hungry” beggars, particularly in the King’s Cross area."
(Evening Standard, 20 September.)

A breath of competition

"Some British commentators gleefully predict that the infusion of American-style capitalism into the electricity industry will turn these stodgy “socialist” industries into sleek, low-cost operations. However, do not look to American managers for efficiency. Southern’s largest subsidiary, Georgia Power spent over $1.6 billion on plant now “stranded”—an industry euphemism for plant that would be worthless but for regulatory charges imposed by regulators to cover failed investments.

Despite its sordid record. Southern is not an especially poorly-managed utility by American standards. Atrocious overspending on plant is the American norm and questionable business practices arc all too common." 
(Gregory Palast, Guardian, 21 September.)

Sky's the limit

The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association is pressing the Office of Fair Trading to investigate Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB charges for showing their satellite programmes in pubs. Publicans claim that, since 1992, the basic subscription has risen 1,152 percent— from £5.99 to £75 a month.

The Scavenger

The ghost of Christmas yet to come (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is Christmas morning and little children lay half-snuggled, half-sleeping in their beds awaiting the miracle of the gifts as advertised on TV and available for a price in their local shops. Parents toss and turn in the next room thinking of empty purses, overdrafts and sinister threats from the building society. Meanwhile, in the misty twilight between bad and worse, lurks the grim-faced oracle of times-yet-to- come. Can it get worse under this profits-first, needs-second system? Come, little ones, and see the bleakness of Christmas-yet-to-come.

You remember a time when there were just beggars squatting in the doorways. Folk knowledge had told that they were not always there, but it is all rather hard to remember. Then came the first of the families. Most disconcerting. The first dead body you walked round, careful to avoid the stench and flies, was always the one that stuck in your mind. Poor little thing—not enough money to feed it and the others, so . . . Then came the neighbours who had collapsed under the swamp of the threatening letters from the moneylenders. She was on drugs; the doctor put her on tranquillisers so that she would never properly have to think of those hopes she once had when he had the little shop and they bought the house. It makes you stop and think when you see the people from down the road out in the street begging for a few quid to feed the ones who might survive the winter.

Of course, the Straw Laws helped none. Jack Straw was one of the most hated Home Secretaries ever (they all are, aren’t they?). Although the Sun was full of praise for his measures to hose down the pavements at five each morning. “Spraying the No-Hopers", the kids call it. And the Prescott Act. long in planning but only realisable with a government that could get the unions to support the scheme, has done wonders to put the young jobless in uniforms and give them a dose of good old-fashioned discipline. The Lib-Dem amendment to cut all welfare payments to scroungers without A1 workfare reports was highly praised in a Guardian editorial.

The deaths from the nuclear blowout in the Ukraine show no signs of letting up. What woman would want to be pregnant this Christmas, with the rate of miscarriages and still-births greater than the number of healthy children born? Everyone saw it coming. After Chernobyl, when that report was issued in the late Nineties about the cover-up on deaths from radiated beef, there was a short scare that if another one went up it would be goodbye to a few million Europeans. They never said it would be as bad as it was when the next one did blow up. Will the war with Russia ever end? These weekly nuclear-alert drills are getting everyone down.

Who would have thought there would be a civil war in the USA? It’s the kind of thing we used to read about in history books. You expected it in Ireland or Yugoslavia, but somehow it all looked so stable from a superficial point- of-view . . . hundreds of thousands dead and who knows how many maimed and homeless? The wags say that the IRA are taking collections in Dublin pubs for the New York Police Militia who have been taken as political prisoners by the Nation of Islam.

The ads become more depressing every day. And there are so many more of them, even on the BBC now. Everyone wants to sell you insurance. It’s like one big protection racket. That one about the little boy with leukaemia who gets turned away from the State Market Hospital and has to sell his bike to get some painkillers . . .  I mean, come, on. there are limits to taste.

But that's the thing: there are no limits. The future of the profit system is not a subject for the delicate of taste or the nervous in mind to study. Best think that everything will just go on as it is. What a horrible thought! Best not think at all.

And the children wake up to find at the end of the bed the bargain models of the goodies which advertisers spent millions persuading them they wanted. What it is to be a carefree infant on such a lovely day. The parents take confidence that the kids will always be snug and forget for a while the abject poverty which the majority of the world’s kids are living in right now. The Queen will come on after the Tesco chicken-bites and reassure them that all is well in this sickest of social orders. She is the Ghost of Christmas Present. And whether what we have allowed ourselves to think for a while about the times to come does come? Well that is up to us to permit or forbid, for we make history, and we alone have the power to stop nightmares from coming true. Even Scrooge could see that. 
Steve Coleman

Happy Sundays (1995)

'Hello, is that the SPGB?'
TV Review from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The flagship programmes of the Autumn schedule have come to an end and Sundays on BBC 1, in particular, are not quite the same. Last of the Summer Wine and Keeping Up Appearances have both finished their runs and left a bit of a sitcom vacuum. Anybody who could bring themselves to stay awake past Songs of Praise will have noticed that they complemented one another effortlessly.

These two programmes have much in common. Both are situated in what appears to be the more picturesque parts of the country, with most characters recognisably from the north of England. Both contain formidable and domineering middle-aged women (Hyacinth Bucket—pronounced “Bouquet" in one, almost the entire female cast of the other). Both have hen-pecked husbands to add to the list of stereotypes (Richard Bucket and Howard, respectively). Both feature amusing though work-shy lumpen-proletarian slobs (Compo and Onslow) on the male side and tarty nymphomaniacs on the female side (Marina and Rose). Furthermore, both programmes—while certainly funny in parts—are incredibly formulaic, so much so that it is almost possible to set the clock according to the order of the scenes.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that the programmes have such obvious similarities though. They are, after all, written by the same scriptwriter. Roy Clarke is a privileged man indeed to have had two sitcoms broadcast within two hours on the same day, week in, week out.

There is of course much to criticise in these two sitcoms, not least of all the rampant stereotyping which was also evident in Clarke's earlier—and rather funnier effort—Open All Hours. But Last of the Summer Wine and Keeping Up Appearances are two of the most watched and loved programmes on British television. Is it simply because they are the funniest? Almost certainly not.

Yorks Branch of the SPGB trying to do a paper sale. 
This charming man
Roy Clarke has a talent for giving the uninteresting if not downright boring an allure and appeal that other scriptwriters do not achieve. Consider this—hysterical though he may be, few would want to spend any time in the leisure centre of Gordon Brittas from The Brittas Empire, but they flock to Holmfirth in Yorkshire to visit the houses and cafes frequented by Compo, Foggy and Clegg. And it is not just the scenery that attracts them either, it is the entire sense of cosy working class community and solidarity which many aspire to in real life but few attain because of the ruthless nature of the capitalist system. It is a similar phenomenon to that which makes Coronation Street so popular, a phenomenon previously noted in this column. The characters in these sitcoms that do not conform to this image are always the least content—Hyacinth Bucket, or for instance, the miserable sniping Pearl in Last of the Summer Wine.

One of the most amazing features of these sitcoms, however, is something which never receives comment in the newspaper reviews. This is odd, because it is a feature which is both obvious and attractive to most viewers. It is the fact that hardly any of the characters are employed. Some have no visible means of support whatsoever, yet go about their daily tasks as normal without any sense of great loss. Though there are a couple of shopkeepers, not a single character in Last of the Summer Wine has a job. Since Richard retired in Keeping Up Appearances not a single member of the extended Bucket family appears to be employed, either. No wonder the we find these programmes so appealing! In addition, most noticeably as far as Last of the Summer Wine is concerned, there are no bosses and unions, no apparent money troubles and no crime. Everybody gets on with their own business without too much interference from outside forces while still inhabiting what is identifiably a real community. Halcyon days indeed!

With these sitcoms and Coronation Street the bourgeois escapism of Dallas and Dynasty has been replaced with a sore of working class utopianism. Characters who are concerned with riches and status are derided while the true stars are those who shun this more conventional approach to life and yet still live in some degree of apparent happiness. It is a world away from the City of London and the monotonous grind of the production line.

While human existence can never be one big sitcom, it is clear that many workers identify with a situation where people seem to live without the intrusions of money, status and profit into every aspect of life and where those concerned with such things are laughed at or pitied. Such workers who identify with a lifestyle of solidarity instead of competition without the intrusion of wage slavery are ripe for change. And it is about time the idle escapism was turned into an active reality.
Dave Perrin

SPGB Meetings (1995)

Party News from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gunter gives his Orders (1967)

From the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scratch beneath the skin of any complacently Right Wing Labour Minister and in nine cases out of ten you will find he has a history of Left Wing militancy. Minister of Labour Ray Gunter is the tenth case—the man who has always defended the official party line, who has always infuriated the firebrands by his unrepentant stance way out on the right.

Stumpy, thick-necked, with a coarsely drawn face, Gunter can look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. At times he sounds like one, frothing out cliches and platitudes like an unconscious satire on a trade union official eager to let the world know he has recently mastered the use of words like “auspices”, “context”, “relevant.”

Perhaps Gunter is living out of his time; many of his public outbursts sound as if the ventriloquist had cast him in the role of a Dickensian workhouse master, dishing out strong doses of brimstone and treacle to the boys and fiercely crushing any tendency to ask for more:
“The economy of this nation has to be put right.. . with a measure of harsh government”. (Scottish TUC, Glasgow, 12/2/67.)

“We as a nation are living beyond our means.. . too many people drifting and dreaming that all is well” (Ilford, 8/1/66.)
Gunter may infuriate those who think that Labour lost its soul somewhere on the road from Scarborough 1964, but apart from that he cannot be described as an exciting man. His background is undeviating to the point of tedium; trade union branch officer, Divisional Labour Party secretary and agent, joined the Army in the war, rose from private to captain, Labour M.P. after the war, President of his union, member of the Labour Party National Executive and finally Minister of Labour in 1964. Now, he is said to have reached the peak of his ambitions; according to one political correspondent Gunter has no desire to move on to greater things and does not think of himself as a future Prime Minister.

Of course they said the same thing, long ago, when the colourless Major Attlee became Postmaster General in the 1929/31 Labour government— and they kept saying it about him, almost to the day when he took over at Number Ten. Has there ever been a politician who has not seen himself as a future Premier? It is hardly in Gunter’s make-up to be that unique.

Indeed, there is some evidence that his rise in the Labour hierarchy was anything but unconsidered. Gunter first won fame by his spirited defence of the platform at Labour Conferences during the early Sixties, when the long period in opposition had them frustratedly and constantly chewing their own tails. It was temptingly easy, then, for a rising star to rise still further by making attacks on the leadership and by speaking in the wild, airy manner so beloved by the Left Wing. Not a few of the present government did just that— but not Gunter. His stand at the Conferences was enough for the newspapers to decide that here was a man of the future, who could be relied on to do capitalism’s dirty work with never a qualm.

Very soon, Gunter was building up his reputation for preaching what he calls hard facts:
“He said there was nothing sacred in the present methods of collective bargaining, and he could not accept that the rewards must inevitably go to those who could, because of the nature of their work and the power of their organisation, command the greatest economic power.” (The Guardian, 17/9/62.)

I am persuaded that unless the unions face the facts of life as they are in the late 1960s, then in seven to 10 years’ time the State will have to intervene.” (Socialist Commentary, April 1964.)
Gunter was not alone in this; other Labour leaders, among them Callaghan and Wilson, had said roughly the same. Those were the days when the Incomes Policy was being drawn up, for action when Wilson’s honeyed words on the scientific revolution won power for Labour. The unions were being given due warning—and a lot of voters were being convinced that a Labour government would be anything but a tool in the unions’ hands. Prominent among the graspers of this particular nettle, one of the readiest to throw a gauntlet before the unions, was Ray Gunter.

Of course this went down very well with the newspapers, who always seem tremendously impressed by any evidence that a politician may be honest. Gunter, they decided, was a candid man of the people, who could always be relied on to speak his mind. Perhaps that was why, when Labour’s day of victory dawned at last, the television interviewers made a point of asking him what he thought of Gordon Walker’s notorious defeat at Smethwick. Gunter was obligingly blunt; this, he said, was a victory of which the Conservative Party should be thoroughly ashamed.

A lot of people looking in that night must have decided, approvingly or not, that this reply meant Gunter was opposed to the electoral exploitation of racism. But Smethwick, and the later result at Leyton, left their scars; when the Labour government outdid the Tories in their restrictions on coloured immigration, one of the two Ministers to submit memoranda pressing for drastic cuts was Gunter. (The Guardian, 31/5/65.)

But this change of policy did not dent the new Minister of Labour’s reputation for common sense. Nothing, it seems, can do that; even when he is so rash as to say, as he did at Blackburn on 5 January 1966, that there were signs the coming year would be industrially more peaceful than 1965. That risky prediction turned out to be right. In 1966 the number of stoppages of work through disputes, the numbers of workers involved, and the number of working days lost, were all lower than in 1965. But that can hardly be called an achievement of Gunter’s; by recent standards 1965 was a bad year—many more working days lost than in 1964, nearly twice as many as in 1963 although much lower than any year between 1958 and 1962. And 1966 was the year when the railwaymen came within an ace of striking and when the seamen had their first official stoppage for over fifty years—incited, said Wilson, not by any desire to improve conditions but by “politically motivated men”.

But right or wrong, Ray Gunter has kept stolidly on, preaching, bullying (“. . . the conference this week has been … roughly handled by Mr. Gunter.” The Guardian report on the Labour Party conference, 30/9/65) sometimes giving way to self-pity (“Sometimes I felt a bit grim under the skin. Some of you seem to think that blokes like myself, when we have arrived at positions of authority, somehow have deserted all the things we stood for. I resent that.” Scottish TUC, 12/2/67.)

Last summer he won new fame by wishing aloud that not so many Labour Party members would equate the Means Test and profit with original sin (who said they did?). Then a rash of publicity on unofficial strikes—the Cameron Report on the Barbican dispute, the stoppage at the London and Liverpool docks—had Gunter at it again.

First he returned to an old theme of his: discipline. (“Mr. Gunter, the Minister of Labour, said yesterday that the prevalence of unofficial strikes was indicative of a state of indiscipline in industry which we should have to tackle. The Times, 17/10/67.) He has plugged this one before: “There is far too much indiscipline in every part of this nation” (Co-operative Congress, Edinburgh, 7/6/65.) “If, perchance, inner disciplines and voluntary contributions are not forthcoming in a short time, this nation must look to other means to prevent the ultimate disaster” (TUC, Brighton, 6/9/65.)

Then from the very bottom of the rag bag of excuses which all politicians keep handy, Gunter produced the tatty old Red Bogy:
“There is now little doubt that the Communist Party are plotting to make this a winter of disruption. They now, unhappily for the well-being of the nation, have entered into an unholy alliance with elements of the Trotskyist Party. Their aim is to destroy our hopes of economic recovery and thereby they hope to bring ruin to the social democratic movement.” (Gillingham, 18/10/67.)
If it was clear from this that the government were getting desperate, it also seemed that Gunter was living in a nightmare world peopled with wildly undisciplined workers—overpaid, underworked, striking at the first word from Communist Party headquarters.

Now one of the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of discipline is “. . . order maintained among schoolboys, soldiers, prisoners etc.” Perhaps this is what Gunter thinks is lacking among workers—perhaps he, the ex-officer, would like to have us all recruited into some sort of school, or army, or prison, where there would never be any nonsense about struggling to improve our conditions; disciplined, we would take what was coming to us and be thankful.

In any case, workers are subject to all sorts of discipline, whether they recognise it or not. There is the discipline of relying on a job for a living, and of this job existing only so long as it is profitable. There is the discipline—or perhaps degradation is a better word—of producing goods for sale, which usually means a debasement of skill and knowledge in making a shoddy imitation of the real thing. There is the discipline of living two lives—the workaday life of tongue in the cheek, judging everything in terms of our employer’s profits, the job, the wishes of the boss; and the other life at home, when a worker can judge things, as far as possible, in terms of human comfort and welfare.

This is not all that employment means. Because a worker sells his working ability to an employer, employment means that the interests of both are opposed. This opposition is bound to break out into disputes—over wages, conditions of work, security of employment and so on. Gunter prides himself on being a realist but it is highly unrealistic to expect these disputes to be gentle, disciplined affairs confined to the agreed lines of official action. When it suits the employers’ interests they close down a factory or a mine or a railway line and dismiss their workers and Gunter sees no sinister plot behind it. But when workers decided that their economic interests demand something more militant than lining up like soldiers, or schoolboys, or prisoners, for what their employer likes to give them, Gunter sees red.

It is true that at times (the present, for example) it is Communist Party policy to involve themselves in industrial disputes. Gunter takes this as proof that the disputes are caused by the Communists, which is something like the Communist claim that troubles in Russia and eastern Europe are the work of the CIA. In any case, what about the time, during the war, when the Communist Party were opposed to strikes? Who caused the disputes then? The fact is that industrial trouble is bound to happen and workers become involved in it because they work for wages and not because of any political affiliation.

Let us be blunt with Gunter. He is a member of a government which came into power on a wave of optimism and warm promises. So far their most spectacular achievement is their failure to deliver the goods, and the ebb wave of disillusion which is losing them one by-election after another. The reaction of Gunter, and others, has been to blame outside influences—the gnomes of Zurich, the storm which blew them off course, the alleged laziness and indiscipline of the workers.

This is typical of all governments and typical, too, of Dickens’ workhouse masters, who always said the boys’ hunger was really their undisciplined greed, and had nothing to do with the thin and meagre gruel.

Letter: The Committee of 100 and Politics (1967)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a letter from Mr. L. Otter, of Witney, listing and enclosing various anti-Labour and anti-political leaflets handed out by the Oxon Committee of 100 during the 1964 and 1966 elections. He makes the following criticism of the article “Is Politics Corrupt?” in the July Socialist Standard:
“Your attack on the Committee of 100 implies that the Committee were in 64 and 66 campaigning for one of “Conservative, Labour, Liberal or Communist”. The 100 did not exist in the 59 election so we must start with 64. As you reviewed at the time of the 59 election the Voters’ Veto leaflet, and as you are aware that the groups that came together on this were later active in building the Committee, you would hardly have had a case even if you were going back before the formation of the Committee.

“The black on red sticker—”Conservative . .. they are all alike, Vote for humanity” was in fact printed for the 1964 election by the National Committee. Various local committees had their own stickers and posters as well as publishing their own leaflets.

“It is true that some people left the Committee in 1964 disagreeing with its quasi-anarchist position, the majority of these however were not Labour Party supporters but supporters of INDEC (which became the Radical Alliance).

“Since you have not the honesty or the intelligence to know that this position of the Committee’s dates back to the 1964 election it is hardly surprising that you also do not know that both before and after the 1964 election the Committee published leaflets giving social analysis.

“The Harlow CND-Committee of 100 which publishes its own paper Candis, whose editors were in 62 flirting with Anarchism, became so struck by the fact that Stan Newens (Labour MP for Epping since 1964), an ex-trotskyist, became their candidate that though they did not themselves adopt entrism, they did take the same position that the ILP rightwing and the Socialist Leader took at that stage. But the committee as such was very firm on the matter, insisting that all committees should oppose the major parties of the “left” since all supported one or other of the nuclear powers and the social system that makes powers become nuclear.

“This meant that it was regarded as consistent with the Committee position, to support independent unilateralist candidates or to take an uncompromisingly anarchist position. The committee journal contained at least one letter advocating ND support for your own party. It is notable that not merely did the few remaining Labour Party and Communist Party members who had for a time supported the Committee drop out in 1964, but also the Trots, the ILP right-wingers, groups such as Candis and
“In 66 there was no debate in any committee circles, as far as I know, on the matter.”
We thank Mr. Otter for pointing out that the Committee of 100 did not support Labour, Tory, Liberal or so-called Communist in the last two elections. We admit we may perhaps have been a little vague and thus may have caused some misunderstanding. But we did not in fact say that the Committee supported Labour in 1964; nor did we mean to. What we said was that “the Nuclear Disarmers were among the supporters which the Labour Party had when it took office for the first time in some thirteen years” and then went on to quote from a leaflet issued, we assume, by Edgware Peace Action Group, advertising the 1967 Aldermaston March. Our point was this: In 1964 many nuclear disarmers backed Labour and were now becoming disillusioned and rejecting political action altogether. This, we argued, was a mistake. It was not political action as such that was wrong but reformist political action. 

Mr. Otter does not deny that the attitude of the Committee to politics has changed in recent years. He even describes the process in some detail. But, let us go back to the beginning. The Committee came into being in early 1961 as a breakaway from CND over tactics. It backed civil disobedience to get the same aim of unilateral nuclear disarmament by the British government. It was made up of much the same people as CND, viz, pacifists, Christians, supporters of Russia, Labourites, anarchists. The man who was President of the national committee for its first two years. Earl Russell, was throughout this period a member of the Labour Party (he did not tear up his card until October 1965). There was also a curious, and revealing, incident in January 1962. The Spectator of 5 January published part of an abusive letter from the secretary of the Scottish Committee. Bernard Levin took the writer to be a supporter of the Russian government and challenged the national committee on it. Next week two replies were published. One from the Acting Secretary, Tony Southall (now secretary of Glasgow Woodside Labour Party), said:
“The Committee of 100 has never attempted to disguise the fact that our movement contains people of widely differing political persuasion. We have stood for mass non-violent civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. Beyond a belief that this is a viable and necessary programme of action for the people of this country we have never demanded any political qualifications of our members.”
The other, from Nicolas Walter, said:
“The central Committee has no official policy beyond unilateral nuclear disarmament.

No doubt there are Communists who belong to or support the Committee of 100.

The Committee exists solely to organise its demonstrations.”
So, at that time, the Committee was an amorphous body, a kind of ad hoc committee for organising civil disobedience against nuclear weapons (by Britain). Beyond this it had no policy. It was not opposed as such to the Labour, or even the so-called Communist, or any other party. How could it be if it allowed its members to belong to these parties also? But times change. Now, the Committee has a much wider programme, including such reform measures as:
“USE the taxpayers money to build more houses, schools, hospitals and colleges. (One Polaris submarine costs £70m—enough to build and service two new towns).

LAUNCH a ‘crash’ programme for the training of teachers.

CUT rates by reducing the interest rate on loans to Local Authorities to what it was in 1946—1½ per cent.”
(“Our Candidate—Humanity”, 1966 election manifesto).
Editorial Committee.

Letter: China’s Communist Party (1967)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Friends,

Frank Offord states that the early Chinese Communist Party consisted entirely of an affluent and educated elite—”the ordinary worker being conspicuous by his absence”. I wonder where he gets his information from, he should read Red Star over China by Edgar Snow, an unbiased account of the early days of the revolution written inside the Communist areas of North West China in 1937.

Mao tse-Tung’s father was in fact a poor peasant who had managed to increase his property and income until he acquired the status of rich peasant, employing only one labourer—his family doing most of the work. Mao himself started working in the fields at the age of six, later became an apprentice in a rice shop. He finally went to a proper school at the age of sixteen, and then against his father’s wishes and with a minute allowance. Lin Piao’s father had once owned a small factory, but had been forced out of business by extortionate taxes. Only Chou en-Lai is a member of a traditional mandarin family. It is true that the Communist Party was founded by intellectuals—so are most organisations—but this is hardly surprising considering that the peasants and workers, oppressed as they were with fiercely reactionary landlords and their attendant thugs, and by immense taxes, had no chance to come into contact with Marxist thought. Once the party had been founded the proletariat joined in large numbers.

One thing is certain, the Chinese revolution was achieved not by power-seeking members of the bourgeoisie, but by men who suffered over twenty years of continual fighting and hardship simply because they believed firmly in their convictions. Maybe these same men betrayed their convictions when they gained power, nevertheless the Chinese worker is now a responsible citizen, not a slave. Of course there will always be people seeking wealth as long as money continues to exist, and these people are worthy of our hate. The SPGB attacks everybody and everything—sometimes justifiably and sometimes not—but exaggeration will do nothing to help the cause. By taking it too far you are liable to isolate yourselves and become entirely impotent. You’ll be saying that ‘Che’ Guevara was in it only for the money next.
Tim Deane,
Wimborne, Dorset.

Edgar Snow got his information through being in China at the time, but we can refer our correspondent to what is in our opinion the best work on the subject written so far—Revolution in China by Fitzgerald, from which we quote from page 193:
“At present the Chinese Communist Party is recruited in very large measure from the educated class, the university students … It is thus not really at all a party made up of members of the toiling masses. It could not be, because the peasants are still mainly illiterate, the workmen very little educated, and too few to supply the dominant clement. The university students come from the classes which Mao Tse-tung has stigmatized as only in part reliable, and lacking in vision and courage, the former country squires or landlords, the city bourgeois and the old official families . . . The present generation of recruits, taken into the party in very large numbers after ‘liberation’ are mainly university students, still very young. They will form the bulk of the Communist Party for another forty years
. . . . . 
The new members from these mandarin families are, of course, ardent Communists, sincere believers in the New Democracy, servants of the people. They are also precisely the same group of people who have governed China for the last two thousand years. It is in their blood. They are born to rule, and whether by virtue of Confucius and the Emperor, or Marx and Mao Tse-tung, makes very little real difference. Deep rooted, not in any way destroyed by the Revolution, is the old Chinese conviction that government is an affair for the elite, for those who sit in the seats of authority, and that the qualification for such a seat is knowledge of the orthodox doctrine, not blood, nor wealth, but ‘book perfume’ is the real test.”
Regarding Mao Tse-tung’s background we can give a tip—’straight from the horse’s mouth’ by quoting the statement made by Mao himself taken down by Edgar Snow and published in Red Star Over China which, as our correspondent says, is an unbiased account. On page 121 he says that it took the five members of the family plus a hired hand to run their farm while his father devoted his time to his prosperous grain business and other activities. “The old man continued to amass wealth or what was considered to be a great fortune in that little village. He did not buy more land himself, but he bought many mortgages on other people’s land”.

It should be remembered that due to lack of development in China at that time it was not necessary for a prosperous business man to own a firm the size of say Marks & Spencer in order to be “one of the nobs”.

Mao had the equivalent of a provincial University education and graduated at the age of 25 (Mao Tse-tung by Stewart Schram—Pelican Books), and so became one of the educated elite and typical of the recruits to the Mandarin class that has traditionally ruled China right up to and including the present period of Capitalism there.

We do not hate, as individuals, either the capitalists or the wage slaves who work for them; it is the capitalist system of society which we seek to abolish and replace with Socialism.
Editorial Committee.

Letter: Distorting Marxism (1967)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

While not in any way wanting to associate the beliefs of our group with those of the SPGB, we are deeply amused at your efforts to emasculate Marxism. Your hatred of Lenin and Bolshevism rather stands in contradistinction to your espousal of Marxism. Most of all, quoting from the works of Kautsky and Bukharin in your literature, as if to prove your Marxism by the choice of books you quote from, is also most humorous. Take any Marxist conception and there the SPGB will be found revising and distorting it. It is perhaps paradoxical that the two works of Marx you base your policies on, Value, Price and Profit and the Critique of the Gotha Programme, are the very works in which Marx exposes and smashes present SPGB policy, in his attack on Lassalleanism. Nevertheless, we are not as sectarian as your Party, and are prepared to listen to any quasi-Marxist group.
M. E. Therrien,
Secretary, Exeter China Policy Study Group.

The theory and practice of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain is based on Marxism; that is, we accept as valid the main theories put forward by Marx about history, political economy and politics. We accept that the materialist conception of history is a very useful method for examining and understanding social and historical events and changes. We accept that Capital is a brilliant analysis of the workings and historical tendency of capitalism and exposition of how the working class are exploited. We accept too that the working class can be freed from wage-slavery only by its own efforts, by taking class-conscious democratic political action to get Socialism. We were unaware that in so doing we were “emasculating” Marxism and we are not prepared to consider the allegation that we have distorted Marx’s views until and unless Mr. Therrien, or anyone else, produces some evidence.

As a matter of fact it was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who twisted Marx’s theories. For Marx the emancipation of the working class had to be the work of the working class itself. Lenin rejected this. In What Is To be Done? he says, contemptuously, of the working class that “exclusively by its own effort” it can only reach a trade union consciousness. Socialist understanding, Lenin argued, must be brought to them from outside—in Russia by a band of professional revolutionaries organised as a vanguard party. In other words, Lenin and the Bolsheviks held that a vanguard party could free the working class rather than the working class, through it own class-conscious democratic political action, free itself.

Before trying to pin labels on us Mr. Therrien really must make up his mind which one he is going to use. Kautsky (foremost thinker of European Social Democracy) and Bukharin (Bolshevik thinker and leader, later murdered by Stalin) were both opposed to Lassalle (a nineteenth century playboy who did some pioneer work in organising workers, of Iron Law of Wages fame). And of course Kautsky and Bukharin were opposed to each other. We, in the Socialist Party, have serious criticisms to make of all three. In fact, we would say that Lassalle had nothing to contribute to Socialist theory and Bukharin next to nothing.

The policy of the Socialist Party is not based on two works of Marx. It is based on the interests of the working class in the modern world. Value, Price and Profit is a basic work of Marxian economics always worth reading. The Critique of the Gotha Programme, some marginal notes written by Marx on the programme adopted by German Social Democrats at a unity congress held in Gotha in 1875, has certain defects precisely because it was not written for publication. It is odd that we should be accused of basing our policy on these since the Stalinists use them to try to justify their theory that Socialism and Communism are two separate societies. The notes don’t bear this interpretation anyway and Marx used the two terms interchangeably to refer to the classless society of the future, based on the social or common ownership of the means of life.

Finally, may we express the hope that Mr. Therrien’s group’s study of the policies of state capitalist China is conducted on somewhat more scientific lines than their study of Socialist Party policy appears to have been.
Editorial Committee.