Thursday, February 1, 2024

What to do about the Property Speculators (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whichever party wins the coming General Election will have had to promise to curb the property speculators. In the arguments over the three-day week, fuel shortages, and the belt-tightening enforced to try to deal with British capitalism’s troubles, they have become the universal bêtes noires. Why, it is said, should the miners be denied a modest wage-increase when the speculators roll in unearned riches ? Who is going to be impressed by the Government’s call for sacrifices while Harry Hyams swells his fortune by keeping a mammoth office-building vacant for years ?

These are the voices of common-sense and fair play — and the sad truth is that they are irrelevant. If the appeals to run speculators out of town were responded-to, no difference would be made to the situation. That is why the present Government or its successor will not mind responding to them, if it has to. The Left, with its unvarying stupidity, has been demanding that “something be done” for years; in the agitation over housing and homelessness Hyams’ Centre Point remains an obligatory gathering-place and his name daubed on protest banners galore. A recent newspaper report showed the ultimate cure for profiteering in the Land of the Left:
Two directors of a Soviet drinks factory have been shot for leaving the fruit out of the fruit juice they were producing. The newspaper Babinski Rabochi says the two from the Southern Republic of Azerbaydzhan, sold a mixture of water, citric acid and sugar, pocketing more than £400,000. Their appeal was rejected and they were shot.
(Guardian, 3rd Jan. 1974)
No doubt this sounded, to some, like the way to treat them. But will it stop privileged sections raking-in in Russia ? Not likely. Will it make a single worker better off? Of course not.

Profits Galore
Property developers have indeed had a bonanza in Britain since the war. Joe Levy’s profit from the development of the Euston Centre in 1967 was estimated at £22 million (Oliver Marriott, The Property Boom). In September 1972 it was said that sales of land in the Tolmers Square Development Area of London had “been taking place at the rate of £800,000 to £1,000,000 per acre’’ (Town Clerk’s report to Camden Council, 28th Sep. 1972). Of Hyams, The Observer on 23rd December said that his personal fortune
has increased by £300 million in the past six years — at a time when he has hardly been engaged in active development at all, but simply sitting on his steadily appreciating portfolio of office blocks.
Astronomical as figures like these may seem, it is absurd to imagine they are unique to property development and dealing. The same page of the Observer business section on 23rd December reported that the British Leyland motor company’s profits for the year had risen to £51.3 millions, and a race-horse owner was offering to give Cambridge University £10 million. A “Guide to Property’’ recently distributed by the First National Finance Corporation contains graphs of Financial Times Share Indices that put this in perspective. The all-share index includes property. It will be seen that while property in its recent boom period has been the best investment, other shares rise proportionately; and at other times have compared favourably. Incidentally, Counter Information Services have just issued (16th Jan.) a report on the enormous profits of insurance companies and pension funds, of which £4,000 million is estimated to have gone to back property developers—including substantial support for Hyams by the Co-operative Insurance Society.

Someone to Hiss
Supporters and revisionists alike of the capitalist system love a scapegoat. There is nothing admirable about the speculators. The illustrations to Marriott’s book are mostly portrait photographs of well-known property tycoons, and it would be hard to find another collection of faces of such ugliness and vulgarity. Nevertheless, they are only the latest in a succession of ogres but for whom, it is conveyed, the capitalist system would make us all as happy as kings. Their place in the nineteen-twenties was held by “the hard-faced men’’ who had done well out of the 1914-18 war. In the ’thirties it was the arms manufacturers. Malcolm Muggeridge says in his autobiography:
Armament manufacturers — commonly known among us as merchants of death — were a godsend in the way of providing us with an identifiable villain; one of the great needs of the political left being to be able to point an accusing finger at someone, or some corporate body, as being responsible for public and private wrongs and misfortunes.
It is part of the same tradition that the property speculators’ diabolic reputation rests largely on their immunity, so far, to legislation. Laws aimed at quelling them have helped them boom again. The post-war Town and Country Planning Acts, intended to snuff out speculative building, created favourable new conditions for it. The taxation laws in force till 1965, by assuming the developer who did not sell to be making no profit, gave him a magnificent advantage. Most uproarious of all was George Brown’s 1964 prohibition of office-building in London, which pushed up rents and profits and earned Brown the title of “the developers’ best friend”.

The most recent piece of legislation was Antony Barber’s taxation measures in his budget of 17th December 1973. The chief provision was to tax first lettings of new buildings as equivalent to outright sales. Financial writers like Bennie Gray and Christopher Booker in The Observer (as well as Labour critics) were quick to point out that applied to established examples this was anything but crippling, and concluded:
In other words, the situation whereby property profits have generally come to be regarded as the most conspicuous example of economic injustice in pur society is likely to remain.
It is interesting that Oliver Marriott, when his book appeared in 1967, thought the property boom had been demolished. He wrote at the end:
The era of the property tycoon as the arch-symbol of capitalism is over. Forces of competition and taxation have ended the days when an individual could rapidly amass a fortune with a few well-chosen deals and developments.
A Simple Answer
The rise of the office-building tycoons has been a direct outcome of the workings of capitalism. Its main sources have been wartime destruction; obsolescence; amalgamations of companies and the growth of fresh forms of commerce; the spread of administrative machinery; and the compulsion to rebuild town centres on account of road traffic. Given that proliferation of causes, there is no difficulty in seeing why fortunes have been made and why legislation has failed. Indeed, the motives of such legislation are always contradictory ones — acquiescing in the need for more development while hoping not to be shown the “unacceptable face” it inevitably wears.

It is worth remarking also on the belief that little or nothing is done about the speculators because Conservatives in government will not harm their capitalist friends. This could apply to Labour also. But the capitalist class is not united in its commercial interests; at any time, a section will be sent to the wall to suit the more vital needs of other sections. An example is the Act of 1915 which smothered landlords in the interests of industrial capitalists and the war. If the need were strong enough, any government would come down on property speculators. What must always be borne in mind, however, is that legislation is enacted for severely practical purposes and hardly ever for moral ones.

The contrast between poverty and plenty is an inevitable feature of capitalism: a class-divided society cannot help but display it. Likewise, in a society built round production for profit, it is no use lamenting that excessive profits are made. One can imagine fat capitalists tittering behind their hands at the naiveté of “radical” sentiments like Michael Duane’s in a letter to The Guardian on 7th January:
In the national emergency of war it was found impossible to create the unity necessary for survival until, by rationing food, clothing and fuel, we had demonstrated the good faith of our democratic protestations.
That is the kind of assurance rulers want. Given it, they know a few sops and humbug-gestures of “good faith” will quieten the murmurs — and the system will go on as before.

Rather than talking of injustice as if there were an alternative to be had, working men and women should ask why the benefits of their labour are unfailingly taken by somebody else. When the working class decides that this state of affairs can continue no longer and capitalism must go, the end of speculation in property, shares and lives will have come at last. The sight of vast wealth being accumulated by parasites who simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, understandably makes people sick; but none of us will feel better until we have established Socialism.
Robert Barltrop

You're wrong, you know — (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party is not socialist — never was — though they have used the label when it suited them.

Socialism is the higher stage of society which will supersede this one of capitalism — if we can prevent capitalism from destroying us all first.

Socialism will be a social set-up in which the world will belong to all the people who live in it — not a small minority who pay the rest of us to work for them.

In a socialist society, people will produce goods to meet what people need — not, as now, only when a profit looks likely.

There will be no frontiers, no states, no armed forces or police forces — all used now to protect the wealth owned by the minority (often from each other!).

There will be no buying and selling, no wages, no money at all in fact because all this is outdated.



The Myth of Management (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
'We are a happy team here, I treat my workers as human beings and they appreciate that’
Many managers in industry and commerce today, when pushed to explain their rôle, will define management very simply and starkly as: “Getting other people to do what we want them to.” Implicit in this is the idea that most people would not be doing the things managers want them to if they had a free choice. It is not difficult to understand why.

If you have ever had to get up at some unearthly hour of the morning, and journey to work simply to face the prospect of eight hours or more as the victim of an “efficient” system, you will know why. You have little control over what goes on, your time perspective is short, you are a passive instrument of production, you are dependent on those who have authority over you, and so on. Basically you are an adult being forced to behave as a child.

You might think that under these circumstances capitalist bosses and owners would have a difficult time persuading people to work for them, specially as the workers are not producing to fulfil sensible needs but just to supply markets. In one way you would be right; but capitalism has forceful ways of getting people to act against their best interests and produce wealth that will be accumulated to further ensnare workers in wage-slavery. For a start, working people under capitalism need wages to buy the necessities of life. In addition, advertizing implores and persuades everyone to buy more of this and that; with the result that every worker hopes to find a job that pays as much as possible and offers “advancement”, i.'e. the prospect of competing against other workers to somehow get more than they.

Once a worker is engaged, how does capitalism ensure that it gets the maximum possible out of him? This is where management comes in. Capitalism, in order to produce and grow, has no alternative but to devote much attention to management to control workforces and persuade workers to take part in the corporate madness. On the surface it may look as if it has been successful: the majority of workers are persuaded most of the time to behave in a way that is profitable for the enterprise and to accept that managers have “the right” — as trained specialists — to control the machinery and the lives of those who work at it.

In developing the “craft” of management a great amount of effort has been expended, particularly in the universities; today no self-respecting university is without its Management Studies department. Here, students are trained and research is carried out to discover newer and more promising ways to achieve management’s end. It is enlightening to know that the Russians have been among other capitalist countries who have fallen over themselves to gain the latest information on management methods from the gurus at the universities in Britain and America.

Historically, the “Scientific Management” principles of F. W. Taylor in the early 1900s can be seen as among the first efforts by industrial capitalists to control workers otherwise than by force and the fear of dismissal. Essentially, these principles maintained that if firms selected their workers, trained them in the most efficient ways, and appeared to be rewarding them accordingly, the workers would behave in a way that was satisfactory to the management. (The wage-worker’s satisfaction would come from the supposition that he received high earnings.) This view of industrial man has become known as the “Rational-Economic” view and has given rise to work-study, personnel selection and systematic training techniques in industry.

What is a Human Being ?
It rapidly became apparent that this view was inadequate, and soon another factor in the industrial situation was named by researchers in the United States of America. It was discovered from the deservedly famous Hawthorne researches of Elton Mayo and others that there was a social factor to take into account in the workplace. Workers left to congregate did so in what were termed “informal groups”; in these they operated norms of behaviour and restricted production — not always in the best interests of the management and owners but in their own interests as workers. The management teaching which emanated from these researches became known as the “Human Relations” school, and was concerned to show that leadership at work was very important in order to get workers’ behaviour to coincide with the wishes of management.

This doctrine was very acceptable to capitalists, not only because of its timely appearance but because it seemed to fit in with Christian ethics and thereby reinforced management’s responsibility to control the enterprise. It has given rise to innumerable supervisory management courses, and the theatricals of treating workers as “real people” to give them motivation to produce for the benefit of the owners. In the immortal words of an unnamed industrial supervisor: “We are a happy team here, I treat my workers as human beings and they appreciate that.”

After the Second World War, in the developed capitalist countries there was a tremendous upsurge of study in the “social sciences” of psychology, sociology, social anthropology, political science, etc. To gain money for research in the USA, researchers removed the tainted word “social” and substituted “behavioral”. This name-change had the tempting implication of learning how to predict, control and manipulate the behaviour of human beings. Needless to say, plenty of money was then forthcoming to pursue these “sciences” and to feed resulting information to management so that it would be utilized to increase industrial stability and efficiency.

Inventing a Meaning
Management studies “discovered” what Marx had known long before: that man looked for meaning in his work, and the chance to develop and mature. Bureaucracies and other traditional forms of organization took away the likelihood of finding meaning except in the top echelons of the hierarchy. It was said also that bureaucracies produced immature behaviour and conflict among themselves because of the workings of internal politics and career structure. Therefore people were looking for their satisfaction outside the workplace and becoming apathetic and non-involved towards work. Management badly needed an ideology to cope with these problems. Lo and behold, it was produced in the guise of “Organization Development”.

“Organization Development” is the requirement for a firm to keep pace with technical and social changes inside and outside itself. It makes use of such trendy techniques as “participative management”, “job enrichment”, etc. What it means for management is seeking the commitment of the work-force by devising and designing jobs which offer people a challenge, and offer the worker more positive opportunities to “fulfil himself as an individual” at work. The supporting logic is that given these opportunities the individual will gain more satisfaction at work; his defences, brought into action to combat the immature manner in which he had to behave at work formerly, would be eroded — and consequently organizational effectiveness would be increased.

It is precisely this logic and ideology that is behind the much-publicized reorganization of production at Volvo in Sweden into teams of workers producing whole cars themselves, not on assembly lines but in what are termed “villages”. Volvo’s boss has been quoted as saying that if the experiment fails and output falls, the whole system can soon be re-transformed to the assembly line. So much for concern with “human satisfaction” !

Scientific Management was rape but Organization Development, with its techniques of “participation” and “enrichment”, is seduction. The end result is the same, a violated human being and society.

Why it will not Work
The Behavioural Science techniques have been and are being used by management to meet the continual difficulty of getting people to accept wage-slavery. It is the latest fad in a long line of panaceas for the problems of the capitalist system. We may take for granted that it will be as unsuccessful as all the other rearguard actions of capitalism and will not for long dupe workers into believing it is in their interests to acquiesce. The dilemma for management is that responsibility given to a person or group means a loss of managerial control. Therefore, management could not go far in creating true enrichment and participation without undermining its own control of the means of production. They will not do that.

All these attempts then have failed and will fail to deliver the goods. From the capitalists’ point of view, people remain “unmanageable” — but the capitalist class must go on seeking ways to manage, training people for leadership (and presumably followership).

It may appear that managers themselves have a vested interest in the continuance of capitalism because it gives apparent power and status. It should be remembered that they too are workers, anxious to be hired and liable to be fired. While perhaps lording-it over their “workforces”, they are themselves just as much aware of their own insecurity: they share the same problems. From that point of view the so-called leader is likely to be conscious that leadership is a myth.

Socialists do everything possible to destroy that myth and the necessity for people to be “managed”. The idea of management and leadership is an industrial as well as a political fallacy. In a Socialist society people will be able to decide democratically how labour is to be applied for the common good. The need for management is obsolete in such a society. No wages or status, but democratic decision-making and free access to goods and services. Who needs managers ?
D. G. Bishop

So They Say: Same the Whole World Over (1974)

The So They Say Column from the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Same the Whole World Over

The Paris paper Le Monde on 27th December published tables of French workers’ earnings in 1973. The information comes from employers’ official returns, and covers a working population of 13 millions.

The headline tells the story: 60% of earnings are less than 1750 francs a month. 1750 francs is in fact the approximate upper limit of the largest group of wage earners, 34.2 per cent., who receive between 1165f. and 1745f. On 27th December the exchange rate was 10.85f. to the £, giving an English equivalent for this group of about £27.10 to about £40.60 a week.

13.9 per cent. of French workers receive between 935f. a month, or £21.35 a week, and 1165f., and 14.2 per cent. less than 935f. When these figures are seen in relation to substantially higher costs for food and clothing, the position in France is the same as that of workers in Britain and other countries. To round off the similarity, a lucky 1.5 per cent, receive above 7000f. a month. Work it out for yourself.

An Incomes Policy at Last? 

A country where working-class living standards are lower than elsewhere is Russia. A report by Edmund Stevens in The Times on 2nd January described the satisfaction of the Russian press at “comparing the conditions in the Soviet Union with the turmoil and violence in much of the world”, and went on:
Nor is there a threat of petrol shortage, or an energy crisis, or runaway inflation.
However, the article went on to say that petrol prices are expected shortly to go up by 60 per cent., and that many prices have risen recently: sturgeon and other choice fish by nearly 300 per cent., while the cost of caviar doubled in December. How then does the Soviet government avoid monetary and petrol troubles? The answer is supplied:
None of this affected the vast majority of people, who have no need for petrol and could not afford such delicacies as caviar and sturgeon at previous prices, which were raised repeatedly during the past decade.
What a good way of avoiding problems — simply by not letting people have enough money to buy things ! Heath must be envious. But it should be noted that only “runaway” inflation is absent from Russia. The report tells us:
A kind of selective creeping inflation has been going on ever since 1961, when the old roubles were converted to new ones at a 10-1 rate.
So they seem to have problems after all.

Gold Mine Turns Out to be Mirage

A favourite argument of those who tell us the capitalist system is different now is to point to the number of small investors who allegedly represent the working class getting a stake in the ownership of the means of production. Under the heading “Relying on a little help from friends” a Guardian investment writer on 5th January gave a different picture (and, incidentally, showed the futility of much of the advice given by investment writers). He said:
The small investor must beware of tips in newspapers, because when he reads of them a few hundred thousand others will have read them also . . . Stockbrokers don’t want the small man. Indeed anyone with funds of less than £10,000, unless he has investment knowledge, should, if he wants equities, buy investment trusts or unit trusts.
Realistic words. They mean the capitalist class do not mind letting you have interest on small savings, but will not encourage big ideas of sharing with them. And which of us has not got “funds of less than £10,000”?

Trouble in Blue Heaven

The Socialist Party has always opposed every form of censorship. We often meet well-meaning advocates of it who say they agree generally, but believe there is some special evil to which its application will be justified. Part of the answer to them is that once censorship is instituted its use is not limited, and becomes an additional instrument for the suppression of opinion.

An interesting demonstration was given in two letters to The Guardian on 10th January. Both were concerned with the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill now going through Parliament; one was from the chairman of a group of Greater London Young Conservatives, the other from the secretary of an Arts Co-operative. The first fears that the Bill will allow pornography still to be sold under the counter while restricting the availability of Men Only, Mayfair and Penthouse. The second fears that it will be used to suppress Picasso nudes.

Their juxtaposition makes our point, handsomely.

Oiling the Works

Commentators have been getting good mileage out of North Sea oil. Not only will it, in a few years, be replenishing the petrol-pumps and generators of Britain. It will bring “prosperity”. The suggestion is of a good time coming, when the working class will be more than compensated for the hardships of the three-day week and wage restraint.

Whoever believes this should read the financial pages. The good time is being had already — but not by the workers. On 4th January the Guardian's “City Comment” reported the “windfall” which has come to the merchant bank group Edward Bates.
The principal part of the $12 millions deals announced by Bates for the acquisition of working interests and royalties, was negotiated when oil was selling at $4.20 a barrel in the U.S. It is currently being sold at $8.30. As a result, the Bates projection of oil and gas income for 1974 jumps from $2.6 millions to $4.8 millions, not to mention the substantial capital gains which will result in property values.
The next day the Technology Correspondent told of the prosperity resulting from the latest North Sea find: “£180 millions added to the values of BP and Burmah Oil”. The Guardian writer calls the Bates acquisition “an example of the pickings to be had in the American market” over North Sea oil. Incorrect. The "pickings” are had out of the exploitation of the workers — for whom windfalls from capitalism remain elusive.

Where We Came In

Can you place this quotation?
You can’t conceive what existence is like without trains or tubes . . . and probably no electric light tomorrow. We in Richmond can still get to Waterloo; but Hampstead is entirely cut off . . . Then the experts say that the working classes have behaved with such incredible stupidity that the Government will beat them; and this strike is only the beginning of others far worse to follow. They say we are in for such a year as has never been known.
It comes in fact from a letter written by Virginia Woolf in 1919, quoted in her biography. What should be noted, apart from its contemporary ring, is that Mrs. Woolf was associated with groups who were going to end the inefficiency and inequity of capitalism. And fifty-five years later it is still the same.
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: A "Socialist" Government (1974)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are on the eve of great events—at least, Mr. Garvin, of the Observer, says we are!
  “The reason is that to-morrow in this country will see the end of the last purely Conservative Government—none of the same name is ever likely to exist again—and will instal the first Socialist Government in its place."
We really must take exception to this constant tying of the labels “Socialist” and “Marxian” to the Labour Party . . .

. . . The attempt by Garvin and others to identify the ideas of Socialism with the Labour Party’s policy is a convenient method of curbing the workers’ desire for freedom and increasing the confusion already existing. The tendency of the workers to see in capitalism the real source of their miseries is dangerous from the point of view of the upholders of the present system. Garvin and his kind are astute, so they endeavour to fix the workers’ attention upon the Labour Party as the representatives of the new social idea. In due course the Labour Party will fail at the same obstacles—unemployment, and so forth—as the older parties. The Garvin group will then point triumphantly to this failure as an illustration of the incapacity of Socialism to solve economic problems. They bank on the idea that disappointment will breed apathy. This is one reason why we are so anxious to dispel any illusions the workers may have about the advantages to be expected from a Labour Government.

The Labour Party is not a Socialist body, and it repudiates the views of Marx. It is a snare set for dissatisfied but unwary workers.

[From an unsigned Editorial in the Socialist Standard, February 1924].

SPGB Meetings (1974)

Party News from the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Notes:
  • 'S. Stefen' was the pen-name/party name of Stephen Shenfield.
  • Howard Weaver's obituary was posted elsewhere on the blog.
  • Stephen Bodington was the author of the 1973 book, Computers and Socialism. He was associated with the Labour Left.

Poverty and the causes of wealth (2024)

From the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just before Christmas, the Herald columnist Lennie Pennie wrote a piece that looked at extremely rich people who hoard resources (, 23 December). She took particular aim at the royal family, who are apparently described by some as ‘thrifty’ and ‘down-to-earth’ because, for instance, they wear items of clothing more than once!

She wrote: 
‘We should never look at an unequal society within which devastating poverty and extreme affluence are allowed to co-exist as anything other than a structural, governmental and societal failure which demands our immediate attention to resolve.’
Homelessness and food banks exist, while ever more people just cannot meet their basic needs. The UK government spent in one year almost as much money providing temporary accommodation for homeless people as it would apparently take to eradicate homelessness completely.

Unfortunately, Pennie’s approach puts far too much emphasis on celebrities, and the royal family especially, for posing with homeless people rather than really doing something about the problem. Better, she says, to ‘use more of the excessive hereditary fortune to redress the balance.’

The article is entitled ‘Poverty: We need to tackle the causes of wealth’. But it says disappointingly little about the real causes of wealth and poverty. Clearly the two go hand in hand under capitalism. It is not just a matter of the rich hoarding their wealth, but of how they obtained it in the first place and how that implies poverty and destitution at the other end of the scale.

Pennie quotes Oscar Wilde about making poverty impossible, but says little about how to achieve this. The rich, she says, might distribute as much of their wealth as possible to those they wish to help. But that is really not the point: let’s do away with money and inequality and establish a system of society geared to meeting human need.
Paul Bennett

Cooking the Books: Communism is socialism (2024)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

To promote his book, Mute Compulsion, A Marxist Theory of the Economic Power of Capital, Søren Mau contributed a piece to the publisher’s blog last July in which he asked ‘What should the communism we fight for look like’?

He starts by defining communism (what we call ‘socialism’):
‘The fundamental condition of communism is that the basic conditions of the life of society are brought under democratic control. The state would be abolished, all private companies would be dissolved, and all privately owned means of production—land, buildings, machines, etc.—as well as the wealth of the upper class would be expropriated’.
Like land originally was, they would ‘belong to no one, and thus to everyone’.

He envisages this society being divided into a ‘public sector’ and a ‘private sector’, the latter being productive activities that people carry out in their free time after working in the public sector.

He argues: ‘Everything produced in the public sector would be distributed without the use of money. Housing, healthcare, medicine, education, childcare, public transportation, and meals in public cafeterias would be free of charge and available to all, without control’.

That sounds like socialism. But then: ‘Consumer goods associated with varying individual preferences … could be “purchased” with digital coupons’ which everyone would receive ‘each week to use for services and products available from public warehouses’.

But why? If enough of what people might want can be produced, why could these consumer goods also not be made ‘available to all, without control’? Does he share the popular prejudice that people would otherwise take more than they needed?

It is conceivable that in the very early days there might not be enough of everything to permit this and that some sharing-out system might have be devised (by those around at the time) for any goods in short supply, but this would only be a temporary, stop-gap measure. It wouldn’t need to be a permanent feature of a communist society; free access to consumer goods would be the norm. In any event, to set up and run a coupon system (which would have to include putting a coupon price on consumer goods) wouldn’t be the appropriate answer; in fact it would divert resources that could be used to overcome the problem.

Mau says that technically the coupons wouldn’t be money as they wouldn’t circulate. When, however, it comes to his ‘private sector’ he does envisage money as such:
‘Here, everyone would produce and trade as they wish, keeping within certain democratically determined limits (no production or exchange of humans, weapons, or hard drugs, for example). [They] would also be able to create institutions and technologies that could ease and regulate exchange—for example, creating some sort of money’.
Once again, why? No doubt in communist society people, after having contributed to production ‘according to their ability’, would produce some things in their ‘free time’. They might want to grow vegetables for instance but why would they want to sell them? Why would they not simply give them away without asking for anything in particular in return, as happens even now under capitalism? People would continue too to do things for each other but why would this need to involve money?

Mau seems to realise that he is on shaky ground here as he himself asks ‘But isn’t this private sector merely another form of capitalism?’ His answer is that it wouldn’t be since ‘land, housing, and labor power would never become commodities. Money would exist purely as a means of exchange and couldn’t be used to give certain people power over others’. It wouldn’t be capitalism, but it sounds suspiciously like that contradiction in terms known as ‘market socialism’.

Inadequate as Mau’s contribution is, it at least shows that the idea and implications of a communist (socialist) society are beginning to be discussed seriously as the alternative to capitalism.

Try thinking (2024)

From the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life’s a bag of shite and then you die. I wonder how many times you’ve heard that.

One of my mates even goes a bit further. He says you’re dead lucky to get the bag with it.

Well anyway. I was walking past a church close to where I live a few months back and I saw they’d put up a banner that reads Try Praying. Turned out that the slogan had been thought up by some folk near me. So I thought I might give it a go. After all, times are pretty rough for loads of people round here, not just myself.

It was a well-produced banner too, and hanging outside quite a nice building that gets a modest amount of footfall of a Sunday. Not as much as the boozer down the road but that’s another matter

So for a while I gave it my best shot. I dredged up a few phrases that I remember from my schooldays and even threw in a few of my own making. I didn’t ask for anything for myself, mind, I wasn’t after a 49-inch telly or a big house. Just general things like world peace and an end to hunger and poverty, the type of thing that all the religion bigwigs like the Pope and the Dalai Lama bang on about.

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know how effective my praying was… because bugger all happened.

My mates said I shouldn’t have expected anything else. Things are as they are because that’s how they are, that’s life so stop your whingeing.

I can understand how easy it is to go along with that attitude – there’s so much stuff in the world that looks so complicated that you don’t even want to try to get your head around it.

But I’m not giving up that easily. I reckon things can be changed. I’m even tempted to put up my own banner outside my house, one that reads Try Thinking.

Now, I reckon there’s a good chance that like the vast majority of people on this planet, me included, you chose to be born in the wrong bed. Now I don’t necessarily mean that your family was really skint, although that could be true as well, I mean a family that has to work to earn a living. If you did, that was a crucial mistake. It probably means that you’re going to be a human resource, lumbered with boring work/unemployment/zero-hours contracts/insecure tenancies or stranglehold mortgages – I could go on but you know what I’m talking about – that bag of shite I mentioned just now.

Consider this for a moment, will you? All around the world, most real wealth is in the hands of an increasingly small minority. And what do they do with that wealth? First answer, they make damn sure that they keep their mitts firmly on it, and out of your reach. And who can blame them?

But that’s not the issue – the important thing is the effect of their ownership or control on production. It means that, by and large things are only ever made if there is a potential for profit. Seems crazy, but the latest fashion wasn’t produced to make you look fabulous, it was made by a human resource working in some crap-hole, maybe Leicester, maybe Vietnam, so that an employer can make some brass by flogging it on to you. Now producing for profit has all sorts of insane results. One of its minor faults is that it buggers up the planet – you know all that – if you don’t, go on Google. And every so often…. the markets come grinding to a halt and loads of people end up out of a job.

And you must have heard the joke about there being too much month at the end of the money. Producing for profit relies on keeping us not quite so skint that we can’t manage to go back into work next week, and skint enough to ensure that we bloody well do go back.

And then the sort of stuff that we can afford out of our wages is designed down to a price so it usually turns out to be a load of tat anyway, soon to be binned or fobbed off on a charity shop. Well, that’s what real life is like for us human resources.

There’s nothing natural about a situation where a minority can live it up while the rest of us just scrape by. This may have been going on for many years but there is no physical law that says that society has to be this way. The fact is that there is no longer any need for the capitalist system that has now taken over almost the entire world. My mates are wrong, change can happen, but it needs you and your mates to make it happen.

Blast from the past (2024)

Book Review from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communist Dissidents in Early Soviet Russia. Five Documents translated and introduced by Simon Pirani. Matador, 2023.

When the state-capitalist one-party dictatorship in Russia finally collapsed in the early 1990s the state’s archives were opened to the public. Researchers have since dug out material from the period immediately after the end of the civil war in 1921 when working-class discontent was high and some freedom of discussion was still allowed inside the Communist Party,

None of the documents here have been translated into English before though one was published in Russian, outside Russia, in 1923. They reveal the personal and political disappointment of some Communists that the Russian revolution had not lived up to its claims and their expectations that it would bring about ‘the emancipation of the working class’ but had led, rather, to the emergence of a corrupt and self-serving ‘new bourgeoisie’ made up of full-time Communist Party officials.

The most interesting analysis here is that of the ‘Collectivists’, a group inspired by the ideas of the Old Bolshevik (and old opponent of Lenin) Alexander Bogdanov. Their basic position was that the working class had to have prepared itself ‘culturally’ to run a socialist society before it could be established. Starting from the position that the Russian revolution had been an attempted workers’ revolution they came to the conclusion that it could not have led to socialism since this condition for it was not present:
‘We accept that before the war the proletariat in its majority was not socialist, but began to change under the impact of the war. The socialist revolution began in the working class; the revolution arose in the formation of its consciousness of struggle; the proletariat found the will to overthrow the bourgeois order and to try to seize power. But that socialist revolution in the proletariat is far from complete. Not all of it has a consciousness of struggle. And the organisational consciousness of the whole proletariat has not been formed. New organisational methods, the entirety of which is a product of proletarian culture, still have to be worked out and integrated into working-class consciousness. Without this and before this, a socialist revolution in society is in our opinion impossible’.
Basically, no socialism without socialists. This was part of a wider argument that classical capitalism was collapsing and that the world was heading for a state capitalism ruled by a technical intelligentsia (what was later called ‘the managerial revolution’). This, they said, was what was happening in Russia under the Communist Party. Socialists there should personally take part in developing or implementing modern technology, another essential precondition for socialism.

The two other groups whose views are presented here — the Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Party and Workers’ Truth (Workers’ Pravda)— made the same analysis, though in a less worked-out form, that Russia was developing towards a state capitalism ruled by a new bourgeoisie.

The two personal views are only interesting as providing some context. It is striking how many of those mentioned in the book were, according to the footnotes, murdered by the Stalin government in the 1930s.

It’s a pity that such criticisms from inside Russia were not widely available during the time when ‘the nature of the USSR’ was a burning issue; they were way ahead of Trotskyism. Today they are only of historical interest. Pirani, in his introduction, hints at this when he writes that ‘social revolutions in this century may have as little in common with the Russian revolution as it had with the French Revolution of 1789.’
Adam Buick

Obituary: Ron Elbert (2024)

Ron and Karla Rab.
Obituary from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to have to report the death in November of our comrade Ron Elbert of the World Socialist Party of the United States. He joined the WSP in the 1980s and became a regular writer for their journal The Western Socialist and its successors as well as contributing to the Socialist Standard. For a period he served as the party’s Secretary General, an administrative post in our parties. Our condolences go to his family and friends.

Sara Ellenbogen writes:

As Ron Elbert’s stepdaughter, I am deeply saddened to report his passing last July. Besides being a wonderful stepfather, Ron was a long-time dedicated member of the World Socialist Party and became one of its vital organizers along with my mother, the late Karla Rab, whom he met through the Party.

He was a gifted and passionate advocate for socialism. He lectured in public forums such as Community Church of Boston and when I taught a course on business ethics and asked him to present an evaluation of a passage in the textbook to the effect that capitalism was the most rational system, his analysis was brilliant. As a Masters student in history at the University of Massachusetts/Boston, he wrote a thesis on the history of the Socialist Party of Canada which he planned to publish, traveling to British Columbia to interview members. He could always be found at local progressive gatherings, such as the Bread and Roses festival, sitting behind a table laden with World Socialist Party literature, engaging passers-by in conversation about the movement.

Ron cared as much he did about social justice because he cared so much about people. Social change was what he wanted to dedicate his life to. I remember one time I asked him to look at a cover letter I’d written for a job in a homeless center. He added one sentence to it. He wrote ‘The poor are often only able to get services at the expense of their dignity. Our community is greatly in need of people to provide them services in a way that respects their dignity’. That was the way he treated people.

Ron always ended his email messages with a quote from the socialist writer William Morris below his signature. I think he might have liked me to conclude with that quote.
‘We who were once fools and dreamers then shall be the brave and wise
There amidst the world new builded shall our earthly deeds abide
Though our names be all forgotten and the tale of how we died.’

Exhibition Review: ILP, old and new (2024)

Exhibition Review from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded in 1893. To mark the 130th anniversary, the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford ran an exhibition ‘That Impudent Little Party’ in the final months of last year. It comprised original pamphlets, handbills and photos, supplemented by posters discussing the party’s ideas and history.

At its founding, Keir Hardie, who was one of the ILP’s leading lights, stated that it was an expression of a principle rather than an organisation, as it had ‘neither programme nor constitution’. In fact it did have an aim, ‘collective and communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’, but this is contradictory, as ownership in common excludes exchange. In reality it stood for a series of reforms, such as abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords, and doing away with indirect taxation.

The ILP was officially pacifist in the Boer War and the First World War, but many members did join the armed forces in the latter conflict. In the Spanish Civil War it was an ally of the Trotskyist POUM, which naturally brought it into conflict with the ‘Communist’ Party of Great Britain. The ILP was opposed to the CP, as it thought there was no need for a revolution, but there were informal links between the two parties, and some ILPers (members of the so-called Revolutionary Policy Committee) left to join the CP.

The ILP lost influence after the Labour Party adopted Clause 4 in 1918, which also inconsistently combined common ownership and exchange. In 1932 the ILP disaffiliated from the Labour Party and, in the words of a WCML poster, this left it ‘caught between’ the Labour government and the CP. Many people were now wondering what the ILP was for. In 1945 it decided not to rejoin Labour, and many members resigned. It struggled on to 1975, when it was eventually disbanded. Its successor is Independent Labour Publications (, which rejoined Labour that same year and campaigns pointlessly for a more left-wing Labour Party.

The first issue of the Socialist Standard argued that ‘the working class should have nothing to do’ with the ILP. Socialists continued to criticise it as a left-wing reformist organisation throughout its existence (see October 2009 Socialist Standard). Like other attempts to push or pull the Labour Party leftwards, it got precisely nowhere and eventually disappeared.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Oiling the works (2024)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Commentators have been getting good mileage out of North Sea oil. Not only will it, in a few years, be replenishing the petrol-pumps and generators of Britain. It will bring “prosperity”. The suggestion is of a good time coming, when the working class will be more than compensated for the hardships of the three-day week and wage restraint.

Whoever believes this should read the financial pages. The good time is being had already — but not by the workers. On 4th January the Guardian’s “City Comment” reported the “windfall” which has come to the merchant bank group Edward Bates.
“The principal part of the $12 million deals announced by Bates for the acquisition of working interests and royalties, was negotiated when oil was selling at $4.20 a barrel in the U.S. It is currently being sold at $8.30. As a result, the Bates projection of oil and gas income for 1974 jumps from $2.6 millions to $4.8 millions, not to mention the substantial capital gains which will result in property values.”
The next day the Technology Correspondent told of the prosperity resulting from the latest North Sea find: “£180 millions added to the values of BP and Burmah Oil”. The Guardian writer calls the Bates acquisition “an example of the pickings to be had in the American market” over North Sea oil. Incorrect. The “pickings” are had out of the exploitation of the workers — for whom windfalls from capitalism remain elusive.

[From the So They Say column, Socialist Standard, February 1974]

Action Replay: To a tee (2024)

Not Jon Rahm
The Action Replay column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

It might be thought that golf is a rather straightforward game: hit a ball with various clubs until it finishes in the cup. But behind that is a great deal of controversy and power play.

For one thing, the design of golf balls will be modified so that they cannot be driven quite so far. Tee shots are likely to be about fifteen yards shorter for top players and less than five yards shorter for recreational players, with the changes not being introduced for a few years yet. According to the chief executive of the R&A (which runs the game in the UK), ‘the sport has to take its responsibility and be cognisant of our environmental and sustainability impacts. Making golf courses ever longer, we start to run out of property and it is not environmentally responsible.’ Good to see that they are taking things so seriously.

A far more thoroughgoing change to professional golf, though, is the emergence of the LIV Tour (the name refers to the Roman numerals for 54, the number of holes played at LIV events). This may well have an influence similar to that back in the 1970s of World Series Cricket, set up by tycoon Kerry Packer, which had a big impact on television rights and players’ income. LIV Golf is financed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, and is aimed at establishing a new golf league to rival the PGA Tour. It is all part of the attempt to present a positive view of Saudi and its rulers (see the October 2023 Action Replay).

The biggest recent signing for LIV is that of Spanish player Jon Rahm, ranked number three in the world, who had previously said he would not be joining it. He is, according to some reports, going to ‘earn’ £450m or more in the deal. He says he plays golf for the love of the game, and that he is ambitious but not greedy. If Rahm is indeed going to be paid that kind of money, then it will certainly not come from the LIV circuit’s income from golf, which was less than $100m last year. Clearly the money to pay him will be sourced from Saudi coffers.

There was originally a lot of argument and criticism between LIV and the more ‘traditional’ game. Joining LIV means a player cannot take part in the Ryder Cup international team competition, but no doubt that is a rather minor consideration. LIV golfers are now being allowed to play on the European tour, despite being previously barred. So perhaps the conflict is gradually settling down and a way of existing alongside each other will be arrived at, one that benefits the power-holders, and maybe the players too.
Paul Bennett

SPGB Meetings (2024)

Party News from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our general discussion meetings are now held on Zoom again. To connect to a Zoom meeting, enter in your browser. Then follow instructions on screen and wait to be admitted to the meeting.

Editorial: Gangs and counter-gangs (2024)

Editorial from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain is a peace-loving country, so the claim goes. It just happens to always be at war. It can’t help it. There’s always bad people in the world, and Britain needs to fight for freedom, human rights and against an endless supply of Hitlers. So the pro-War camp from the Balkans to Iraq, to Libya, to Syria have always said. So, this time, when Britain and the United States bomb Yemen, it is refreshing to hear the powers that be say that it is to protect trade routes.

It is appropriate that this happened in the same month that General Sir Frank Kitson, GBE, KCB, MC & Bar, DL died at the age of 97: a man who effectively killed for Britain all over the world, including Malaya, Kenya and Northern Ireland. His writings on the role of military force in the modern world were clear-eyed:
‘Countries are obliged to fight where their interests demand they should, and this is not necessarily along their geographical frontiers.’
So, of course, when the flow of shipping is being re-routed away from the Red Sea, when the insurance cost of shipping is increasing by 10 percent with the consequence that everything that has been shipped will naturally cost more, it will be natural for our masters to turn to violence in order to protect their interests.

The protection, in this case, is from the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are backed by Iran, a regional power itself trying to extend its interests by asserting control of the sea lanes. The US and its allies have been seizing Iranian ships and their cargo, and this month Iran has taken to boarding ships and has recaptured the St Nikolas (formerly the Suez Rajan) laden with oil which had been taken from them last year in a US ‘sanctions’ operation that confiscated 980,000 barrels of oil.

This is the hypocritical background to the UN Security Council resolution passed to condemn the Houthi rebels that asserts as universal values the navigational rights and freedoms of merchant and commercial vessels, which, in accordance with international law, must be respected. The Security Council also affirmed the right of UN member states to defend their vessels from attacks in accordance with international law. Navigational rights and freedoms, but on terms that suit powerful groups, and ‘self defence’ meaning the right to defend property and profits at the expense of human lives.

The slogan ‘none are free until all are free’ is resonant in this situation. While the only way the world is run is through force of arms seizing and controlling wealth, no one can be free from coercion and fear of violence. This is, perhaps, best summed up in the title of one of Kitson’s books Gangs and Counter-gangs.

Socialists are opposed to gangsterism and counter-gangsterism and for the common ownership of the world’s wealth so that co-operation and creation can replace conflict and destruction.