Tuesday, March 26, 2024

More gruel, anyone? (1989)

From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

As if life is not hard enough already for them, the people who depend on Social Security benefits for their living are now being targetted. And what, you might ask (unless you are on benefit yourself, in which case you know the answer) does that mean? To begin with we might consider the fact that "targetted’’ is a non-word, a verb created out of a noun. Such creations are not uncommon and often taken to be evidence of fresh, innovative thinking. If the new word catches on, in quarters where there is a real fear of not being thought of as fresh and innovative, it may become set into jargon, without which no speech or article commands proper attention and which is useful to evade an inconvenient reality or to confuse a simple issue.

Targetting, according to the rich Tory ministers who run the Department of Social Security, means rearranging the system of state benefits so that they are paid only to those who can prove to be in the greatest need. It is. they say, a reform long overdue. A recent TV programme about the difficulties experienced by claimants who try to get money from the meticulously targetted Social Fund included the contrasting case of a mother in a large, mock-Tudor house on the greener fringes of Croydon. She declared that she drew her recklessly non-targetted Child Benefit once every few months, when she remembered, and then only to pay it straight into her bank account.

The policy of paying flat-rate benefits to everyone in certain categories, regardless of need, was laid down as long ago as the Beveridge Report. When the policy was written into legislation there was a great shudder of relief among those who, whether through personal experience or not, understood what the Means Test had meant — a harrowing, degrading probing by officialdom for reasons to disqualify desperately poor people from benefit. The Means Test, we were told, had been abolished for ever. But targetted benefits are Means tested benefits, albeit under a zappy. freshly-created — distorting — name.

Dependency culture
It is true that means-tested benefits are recommended to us by Tory ministers as an essential antidote to the widespread scourge of the dependency culture, than which nothing is more dangerous to our morale. Dependency encourages us to live off others instead of using our abilities to contribute to the social good. Those who wondered whether these verbal assaults were targetted at the ruling class, whose income from the labours of the rest of us enables them to jet around the world's playgrounds. may have been reassured by the recent stream of bracing advice from ministers on how we can avoid falling into dependency. The common theme of this advice was that anyone who is poor, cold, hungry or homeless has only themselves to blame. Edwina Currie, before she made the bad mistake of upsetting the farming lobby, came unscathed through the anger provoked by her patronising dissertation to pensioners and any other potential sufferers from hypothermia about the advantages of warm underwear. Peter Lloyd, an Under Secretary at the DSS, recommends clothing ourselves from jumble sales (which many workers do in any case):
I am a great attender of second-hand sales for charities in my constituency. You can get very good bargains. (Daily Telegraph, 12 January 1989)
Lloyd is a member of Lloyds (no relation, presumably), which means that he has. apart from anything else, at least £100,000 which he can afford to lose in an adverse insurance deal. Someone with that kind of money may buy second-hand stuff at jumble sales — it’s all good clean fun, helps out some local charity which targetted claimants are applying to in unprecedented numbers and maybe wins a few votes by showing what a cheery, caring fellow he is. But living in need is not good, clean fun. Getting by on cast-off bargains is a way of life reserved for the class who, directly or indirectly, contribute through their exploitation to Lloyd s fortune and add also to his political comfort by voting him into parliament.

Young people — in whose hands, as politicians so often tell us, The Future Of The Country Rests — are finding their benefit so efficiently targetted that it is shot out of existence. This is happening because the government prefer to have them working. A recent leaflet from the DSS informs them, in terms which suggest that it is the best news they have had for a long time:
From September 1988 if you are under 18 you will normally not be able to get Income Support.
It then puts, and answers, a number of suspiciously docile questions:
Why can't I get Income Support?
Because there is a guaranteed Youth Training Scheme (YTS) place for everyone under 18 who does not go into a job. 
Must I go on YTS?
No. The choice is yours. But if you don't go on YTS any money your parents get for you will stop at the end of your extended Child Benefit period.
Removing workers from the scope of benefit by presenting them with this kind of “choice" does wonders for the unemployment statistics and it is right in the historic tradition of punishing people for being poor. Under the Tudors this was a matter of brutal persecution which, as more and more peasants were driven off the land, had to be modified into the subtler repressions of the Poor Law. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries relief was based on, and administrated by, the parishes, which caused paupers who were unsettled to be carted backwards and forwards across parish boundaries as each tried to cast off responsibility for them. There was, of course, always the workhouse, which in the eighteenth century developed, through a process of reasoning which was a stranger to logic let alone humane concerns, as a deterrent to the condition it was supposed to relieve:
The great object of the poor law board is to ensure a constant unvarying and efficient discipline during the entire residence of the pauper within the workhouse. He rises to the minute: he works to the minute: he eats to the minute. He must be clean, respectful, industrious and obedient. In short the habits inculcated in the house are precisely those the possession of which would have prevented his becoming an inmate. (Chairman of the Sheffield Guardians. November 1855)
Undeserving poor
Another tradition — or perhaps a better word would be tactic — is to divide the people on the lower rungs of poverty into the deserving and underserving poor. The penury of the deserving poor is recognised as largely beyond their control: they are old. or unpredictably redundant (provided they have not neglected the approved ways of guarding against its consequences) or the victims of a sudden disaster. They may also be sick — except that a failure to join BUPA at the proper time may mean they don't deserve to be among the deserving. On the other hand there are the undeserving poor, tainted by a stigma so profound that only a brash rogue like Shaw's Alfred Doolittle would willingly confess to it: “I'm one of the undeserving poor, that's what I am. Think of what that means to a man." The undeserving poor are cunningly work-shy, preferring to live on state benefits to submitting themselves to a good day's exploitation. If they do work they dissipate their wages on booze or gambling. Before the days of smokeless zones, they kept coal in the bath. Nowadays they loll about all day watching the latest videos on an outsize TV set in the corner.

Nobody has yet been able to explain why the undeserving poor have a habit of increasing and decreasing all together and why they tend to concentrate in certain areas. For years — decades even — the undeserving poor lie dormant in their various employments and then suddenly sprout into indolence, their growth being especially luxuriant in places like South Wales. Scotland or Northern Ireland. For example a recent (16 December 1988) article in New Statesman and Society reported that in the region of Strathclyde 28 per cent of the population now live at or below the official poverty line. This includes about one third of the region's children, who are not yet able to choose whether to be deserving or undeserving, and 42 per cent of its old people, who are probably past caring how they are classified and only wish they were a bit better off. This mass descent from the normal poverty of employment into the lower reaches of destitution is largely due to unemployment (what Edwina Currie would call being workshy) which, according to the Strathclyde Council, now amounts to almost a quarter of a million people. A lot of these are trying to bridge the gap between their income and their needs by living on credit. For a while this method may work, in the same way as alcohol or any other drug, by blotting out reality. But the reckoning is unavoidable: the misery of Strathclyde's never-never hangover can be assessed by the fact that its Citizens' Advice Bureau is now dealing with almost 70,000 enquiries from people in credit-crisis — almost twice as many as they were in 1982

So what happened to the targetting of benefits? The National Association of Citizen's Advice Bureaux states that the changes in Social Security last April, which were supposed to bring a great rationalising of poverty into security, have left 82 per cent of the poorer claimants worse off. Some of this is due to the abolition of special needs grants and their replacement with, very often, loans from the Social Fund. There is a Catch 22 here which would impress Joseph Heller, because a loan will be agreed only when the applicant can repay it from their benefit but by definition anyone on Social Security who needs a loan is unlikely to be able to do this. As a result many claimants don't apply for a loan or if they do apply they are refused — which drives them to experiment with the tender mercies of the local loan sharks while about half the money allocated to the Social Fund lies unused.

The predictable response to this mess from the poverty lobby is to suggest that more money be allocated to the needy. This always has a certain appeal for it can't be denied that poverty in all its degrees is symptomised by a lack of money and rich people don't involuntarily live in slums or suffer from hypothermia or malnutrition. Neither are they to be seen queuing at their local DSS to have their domestic innards probed by the Biro of some harassed, sometimes callous, clerk on the other side of the shatter-proof screen. But the calculations of the poverty lobby tend to overlook the fact that the present situation, with its levels of destitution, was supposed to have been legislated out of existence by the so-called Welfare State modelled on the Beveridge Report. Since then there have been numerous re-arranging of benefits; the available money has been shuffled about, allocated first to this type of claimant and then to another. How successful this has been can be gauged from the suffering workers of Strathclyde and the despairing staff of any inner-city DSS office.

Redistributing poverty
All the plans to reform poverty out of existence ignore the vital fact that what counts is the source of our income — how we get our living — for that determines which class we are in and whether we live secure lives or are constantly under the burden of want. People who depend on being employed for a living are members of the working class, the group who experience poverty which can soon slide into destitution if they fall sick, or have more children than they can afford, or are made redundant, or become addicted to alcohol or some other drug. In this class are the people in places like Glasgow, the people whose budgets can be disastrously thrown out by an increase in their mortgage repayments, who can be quickly changed from a proud "owner-occupier'' into a wretched unit of homelessness In this class are the people whose abilities lie unused in a slump and who come to rely on state benefits to live, making themselves targets in the sights of any government looking for economies in its expenditure.

The other class are not to be found in inner-city slums and nor do they worry about temporary changes in capitalism's economy. They can afford to have as many children as they like and the best medical treatment in the most exclusive clinics when they are ill. Although they are socially redundant, as a class they do not suffer from being out of a job because they need never be employed in the first place. They live — in their several houses, their easy security, their luxury — off the exploitation of the working class. They are the people who really exist in a dependency culture for they rely on the workers labour. They are the class whose taxes finance schemes like Social Security and it is their representatives in government who are now concerned to reduce what is being paid out in state benefits". The "Welfare State" was not an act of generosity, a gift of historic proportions from the capitalist class to the workers. Destitution does not come cheaply for such is its cost in terms of crime, loss of production and social dislocation that to alleviate it through a system of state benefits is an investment rather than a gift. National schemes for sickness, unemployment and old age were designed to spread the load of that investment over the ruling class as a whole, even if clever politicians represented them as specifically intended to relieve distress among workers. That deception is now being eroded by the Tories equally specious claim that security for workers is to be found in less cohesive private schemes which will, through the wages they pay to their employees, adjust the burden among the employers.

What does it matter, if in the process a few thousand more people — children, their parents, retired workers, the sick and the elderly — suffer the stress of poverty that bites that much deeper? The indignant campaigners of the poverty lobby are strong on indictment, but like the boys in Dickens' orphanage their worry is that the gruel is too thin. Poverty need not mean an impoverished idea about how society works and how we can make it better.

Sting in the Tail: An Outbreak of Truth (1989)

The Sting in the Tail column from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Outbreak of Truth

Edwina Currie the former Under Secretary of Health had to resign because she upset a powerful section of the capitalist class.

Her comment on ITV 3rd December, '88 that "most of the egg production in this country is now infected by salmonella" caused an uproar among that section of the capitalist class who have their capital invested in egg production. As sales, and of course profits, fell they mounted a campaign to get rid of her.

Now socialists have no sympathy with capitalist lick-spittles like Currie. Her insulting remarks on workers dying of hypothermia (lack of food and warmth) — "they should knit themselves woolly nightcaps” — recall the "let them eat cake" of the pre-revolutionary French aristocracy.

But her forced resignation is really somewhat unique. She had to resign because she told the truth!

An outbreak of truth in the Houses of Parliament would certainly be extremely refreshing. Say Nigel Lawson admitting that capitalism controls governments and not the other way about. That he is powerless to control slumps and booms. Or Neil Kinnock admitting that he is opposed to socialism and just wants to run the buying and selling system.

Alas, it appears that truth is less catching than salmonella and Edwina Currie's case is an isolated one.

Lake Plonk

A search through a European Atlas will not reveal its location. But it's there somewhere . . . unchartered, its location unsuspected.

It's Surplusland, a European country with a weird geography. We know something of its topography from newspaper reports. It has Beef Hills, Butter Mountains and a Wine Lake.

In The Independent 24 January ' 89 we were given some of the details of the Wine Lake.
There were 250 million gallons of surplus alcohol (distilled wine alcohol) for disposal last year. Another 118 million gallons is expected this year. A further 92 million gallons is due for disposal Inside of the next three years.
Why not give it away?, you ask. Well to those of you who fancy a couple of free glasses of wine with your Salmonella Chicken Supreme, the Select Committee on European Legislation (Third Report) has the answer.
In practice there appears to be little demand for wine alcohol as such which reflects the cost of production .
In other words — it's not profitable !

A society that produces and stores surpluses of beef, butter, wheat and wine while millions starve is an absolute obscenity.

It's not Cricket

Annoyed at the cricketing authorities' decision to ban players from the England Test team If they played in South Africa, Mr. Norris McWhirter of the Freedom Association has attempted to take action through the courts.

The Independent 25th January, 1989 referring to the Association's defence of Zola Budd and its recent cricket legal case, stated:
The inevitable conclusion is that it must support the race policies of the South African government but this is not so. Both cases the association says, concern the freedom of individuals to carry out their business or affairs as they chose without interference from bullying authorities.
Mr. McWhirter's organisation makes great play of defending a sportsman or woman's right to go anywhere they wish in their sporting careers irrespective of politics.

This apparent disinterest in politics seems a little strange when one recalls that the same McWhirter wrote to British athletes prior to the Moscow Olympics urging them not to go to that country because of Russia's invasion of j Afghanistan.

Writing to Linsey MacDonald, the Scottish runner, he referred to athletes who didn't win medals and said:
. . . having gained no medals you will have earned the contempt of millions of your countrymen.
Such a letter to a sixteen year old schoolgirl is as good an example of bullying as we’ve come across.

The whitewash attempt of The Independent should fool no one. The Freedom Association is just another bunch of well-heeled toffs anxious to protect their class privilege against any real or imagined threat.

Its deep involvement in the Grunwick dispute of 1976, its anti-trade union stance recently against the postal workers proves that "freedom" to the quaintly named "Freedom Association" means freedom to exploit and grow fat on the unpaid labour of the working class.

What's up Doc ?

David Mellor, the Minister of State for Health, is concerned at the long hours worked by junior hospital doctors.

But not too concerned, for according to The Independent 25th January 1989:
But he confirmed the government's intention to oppose the backbench Bill scheduled for debate In the Lords tonight setting a 72 hour maximum legal limit on the junior doctor's working week.
After a survey in Bristol of junior doctors Dr. Ruth Gilbert (quoted In The Independent same day) said :
Suffering from sleep deprivation, Junior doctors are likely to perform monotonous tasks badly, make mistakes over drug dosages and experience mood changes that will make them less sympathetic to their patients.
When asked about the worst aspects of their work 85 per cent of the men and 95 per cent of the women said "exhaustion and hours of work" followed by "acting as dogsbodies doing unrewarding work."

In February 1848 a pamphlet written in German was published in London. It referred to the position of doctors inside capitalism. It stated:
The bourgeoise has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The pamphlet was The Communist Manifesto. The authors were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

About ourselves (1989)

From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist Party?

An independent political party which stands opposed to all others in this country, including the Labour and Communist parties. Our only links are with similar socialist parties in some other parts of the world.

What is your aim?

The replacement of the existing capitalist system of society by a new and different system we call socialism.

What is capitalism?

A system based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth (land, industry, railways, offices and the like) by a section only of society who thus form a privileged class. The others, who in return for a wage or salary produce wealth for sale with a view to profit, make up the producing or working class. In Britain less than five per cent of the population belong to the owning or capitalist class. Most people — those who work in offices as well as those who work in the factories — are in the working class.

What is socialism?

A democratic world community without frontiers based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth by society as a whole. Socialism will abolish classes and free all humanity from exploitation and oppression. The basis of socialism is this ownership of all the means of production by the whole community; control over their use will rest in the hands of the community through democratic institutions. Wealth will be produced not for sale or profit, but solely to satisfy human needs. This means the end of buying and selling and all the other financial and commercial institutions like money, prices, wages and banks. People will cooperate to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs.

Will everything belong to the State?

No. The State does not represent the whole community; it serves the interests only of those who own the means of production. State ownership or nationalisation is one of the ways in which this class controls industry. When the State takes over industries (like the railways and coalmines in Britain) it does so in their interests. State ownership leaves unchanged the class basis of society, the profit motive and the wages system, all of which socialism will abolish. Nationalisation is just State capitalism.

What system exists in Russia?

Russian society is part of world capitalist society. It shows all the essential features of capitalism: a class who control the means of production through their control of political power; another class forced to work for wages; production of goods for sale with a view to profit and the accumulation of capital out of profits. The same goes for countries like China. Cuba and Yugoslavia. They like Russia have State capitalism.

Do you want something like the kibbutzim in Israel?

Socialism can only be a world community without frontiers. It cannot be established in one country let alone on one farm. The kibbutzim do show that human beings can live without money and can work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so that young people are tending to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

How do you advocate socialism should be established?

By the class of wage and salary earners, once a majority of them want and understand socialism, taking democratic political action to change the basis of society from the class to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Why must there be a majority in favour of the change to socialism before it can be made?

Socialism, by its nature as a system involving voluntary co-operation, could only be kept going by those who really wanted it and knew what it involved. Any attempt to establish socialism without a majority first being in favour is bound to fail.

Do you repudiate undemocratic minority action to achieve socialism?

Most definitely. No leaders, however sincere or able, can lead a non-socialist working class to socialism. Leaders who take power while a majority do not understand socialism have no choice but to develop and administer capitalism, as has been shown in Russia and by the various labour governments in Britain. When a majority do want and understand socialism they have no need of leaders, but only to organise themselves democratically.

Why do you advocate political action to achieve socialism?

It is their control of the machinery of government that now allows the capitalist class to protect their privileged position as the owners of the means of production. In Britain it is parliament that makes the laws granting them property rights and it is the police and the Courts, and if need be the army, that enforce these laws. The socialist majority must win political power in order to remove the protection the government machine now gives to class ownership and to carry through the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production.

How do you advocate the socialist majority should win political power?

By using their votes to elect socialist delegates to Parliament and the local councils. A socialist victory in a democratically-run election would demonstrate to all that a majority were in favour of the change to socialism.

Why are you opposed to all other political parties?

All of them accept the capitalist system and believe that current social problems can be solved within its framework.

Why do you think that reforms of the capitalist system are not the solution? 

These problems are caused by the class ownership of the means of production which all reforms leave unchanged. The policy of trying to deal with social problems one by one by reforms of capitalism is futile, as this is to deal with effects and not the cause. We call this policy “reformism" and are opposed to it.

But surely you are not against all reforms? 

We are not opposed to reforms which may bring temporary relief to some workers, but we do not regard it as the task of a socialist party to propose reforms of capitalism. Were we to do this we could easily soon become just another reformist party. To avoid this danger we advocate socialism only.

Why have all the other parties failed? 

Basically because capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the class of wage and salary earners. It is a class system that can only work for those who own the means of production. Any party, be it Labour or Conservative, which takes power under capitalism is forced to run that system in the only way it can be and so is inevitably brought into conflict with the mass of people who work for a wage or salary. This has been proved time and again.

So it is not because the politicians are not determined enough or are incompetent or dishonest that they fail?

No. No matter how determined or able or sincere the members of a government may be they still could not make capitalism work for the good of all. The politicians fail because they have to accept the class system which causes the problems they are always promising to solve.

If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress towards Socialism.

Not—so—bon appetit (1989)

From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing is clear in all the fuss and confusion about salmonella in eggs, listeria in cheese and BSE in beef: the statements of, and advice from, ministers have not been fit for human consumption. There is nothing new in that: at the time when the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl passed over Britain, letting fall its lethal chemicals with the rain onto the sheep of North Wales and Cumberland, the then Minister of Agriculture was self-sacrificially emphatic about how harmless it was. He declared that he was going to spend that week-end “enthusiastically" eating British lamb. So far he has not grown two heads, but evidence has emerged that the meat in those parts was dangerous to eat then and will remain so years after the fall-out.

Although the most recent row became public with Edwina Currie's famous remark about how widespread salmonella is in egg production, that was by no means the beginning of the affair. Currie's reputation for valuing career-sustaining self publicity over facts made her vulnerable to the kind of assault which the farming interests launched on her. When we saw TV pictures of adorably fluffy chicks on their way to being gassed because of her ill-considered words, her fate was sealed.

But anyone with the most cursory acquaintance with what passes for farming and methods of the food industry had known for a long time about the active threats to health which they represented. There has been no shortage of information, available to anyone who wanted it, about the effects on cattle and on the people who eat beef of pumping the poor beasts full of hormones, not to cure them of some disease but to make them more copious producers of milk and beef. Yet another hormone — bovine somatropin — is now under test, although an unusually sensitive National Farmers' Union seems to be opposed to its use, presumably because they are anxious to avoid more bad publicity for their members.

Battery hens — quite apart from the sickening conditions in which they spend their brief, wretched lives — have long been known to be a source of salmonella poisoning, made worse by the fact that they have commonly been fed on the already diseased remains of slaughtered hens. That is why there have been warnings, albeit muted, about the need to cook chickens thoroughly and to avoid re-heating them.

So why didn't the government simply publicise the whole issue, a long time ago? Why didn't they tell us not to touch any intensively reared meat, or eggs from battery hens, or soft cheese? Or, more effective, why didn't they rush through parliament some sort of legislation to outlaw the production methods which cause the illnesses?

We saw the answers to these questions in the Currie affair. Intensive food production was developed because it is more profitable than the old, slower, less certain methods. The big drugs companies have enormous investments tied up in the production of the chemicals which the farmers shove into their animals. If enough people become scared of buying the food, demand for it can collapse to the point at which it becomes unprofitable to produce it. That may save a few lives and prevent a lot of very distressing sickness but it would play havoc with the profits of the farmers and the drug companies and that is not what the government is there for. Governments exist, not to look after the wellbeing of what is called the consumer — workers who spend their wages on the things they need to re-produce their energies — but to protect the profits of the class who own the means of production, which in this case means the farming industry. the food production firms and the drug companies.

That is why the first official reaction to the slightest breath of truth about something like salmonella in eggs is to rush to conceal the facts. If public pressure becomes so fierce that some of the facts must be allowed out they will often be so mangled and restricted as to be unreconcilable with the truth. This stubborn rearguard action can go on for a very long time, while workers endure painful and possibly fatal illnesses because of their ignorance of the facts.

The great food scandal brings us once again up against the reality that capitalism puts profits before people. Currie's big mistake was that, while she so ardently supports this social system, she allowed herself to voice a passing doubt about the effects of this principle. The penalty she paid, was a lot less distressing than what was endured by those who experienced what it meant from the business end of a sick-bed.

Letter: Co-operatives and capitalism (1989)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Co-operatives and capitalism

Dear Editors

R. Lloyd in the November 1988 issue asserts as an absolute dogma that "Cooperatives do not give workers security of employment; do not free them from exploitation; and do not allow the luxury of producing goods outside the parameters of commodity production. Co-operatives under capitalism cannot be organised in any other way".

Accepting with certain reservations, that "cooperatives under capitalism cannot be organised in any other way", I should like to know how the Socialist Party envisages cooperatives could function in the circumstances where there is a considerable degree of socialist consciousness. It seems to me quite ludicrous to suggest that a significant growth of socialist consciousness will not bring about a concomitant reduction in the scale and extent of capitalist economic relations. Surely, both the desire and the opportunities, to transcend the market place and produce things directly for need, starting with small scale and localised activities, are bound the grow with the growth of the socialist movement itself? It seems to me wholly reasonable to suggest that cooperatives represent one particular form, amongst many, through which these expanding non-market productive relationships will be able to take hold at the expense of capitalist relations. This is not at all the same as saying that co-ops can produce for need within the framework of capitalism. Rather, it means they can only do so outside that framework, which would be possible because the framework itself would have contracted. Nor does this mean that socialist should not still aim for the political abolition of capitalism but only that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary, production, which only operates through the prospect of profit, can possibly operate prior to the political capture of power when the socialist aim to abolish the profit system becomes itself a serious prospect?
Louise Cox

We are not in the habit of asserting absolute dogmas. The passage our correspondent quotes was based on hard evidence of the experience of co-operatives under capitalism. She in fact more or less accepts this conclusion, but questions whether it must always be so, suggesting that “where there is a considerable degree of socialist consciousness” co-operatives will be able to "transcend the marketplace and produce things directly for need”.

When there is a "considerable degree of socialist consciousness" (when, that is, millions of people are against the money-prices-wages system and want to replace it with a world of free access and production for need), we can indeed “envisage" a lot of things. That, for instance, capitalist politicians and governments will lean over backwards to offer reforms; that trade union will become more democratic and more militant; that the capitalist state will have an increasing problem to recruit workers to serve in its armed forces, to mention some things have long been a subject of speculation among socialists. We can also envisage the co-operative movement too being affected by this ferment of ideas, by becoming more democratic and even by expanding to a limited extent. Why not? After all, who knows?

Our correspondent, however, is asking us to envisage much more than this. She sees the co-operatives as representing "one particular form, amongst many, through which expanding non-market productive relationships will be able to take hold at the expense of capitalist relations".

We can't agree that this is at all a reasonable assumption. Remember, we are talking about a time when there is to be a considerable number of socialists but not yet a majority. This means that the capitalist class, basing themselves on the non-socialist majority, will still control political power and so still monopolise the means of production. How, in these circumstances. could any co-operative detach itself from the rest of the economy, which would remain geared to producing goods for sale on a market with a view to profit, and begin producing goods to consumers could have free access according to need? Where, to get down to the bottom line, would the money come from to acquire the raw materials and power needed to produce the goods that are to be given away free? Surely our correspondent doesn't imagine that capitalist firms would generously agree to supply these free of charge! The fact is that, as long as the capitalist class control political power, which they will be able to continue to do for as long as there is a majority of non-socialists. capitalist economic relationships (commodity production, wage- labour, production for profit will be bound to prevail, however large the minority of socialist might be.

Of course some might regard all this as speculation and they would be right to a certain extent, but such theoretical questions are important since to have a correct practice now it is necessary to have a correct theory. Our correspondent's theoretically unsound views lead her to advocate an unsound practice now. namely, encouraging present-day co-operatives, despite their capitalist character, as a potentially "socialistic" form in the future. She thereby places herself in the same camp as those we criticised in our original article, who she must regard as being right if for the wrong reasons.

Finally, our correspondent has misunderstood our position. We have never said that "the only approach available is the capture of political power". Certainly this is the main goal which the socialist movement must set itself, since until political power has been taken out of capitalist hands the socialist transformation of society cannot be carried out. We note, in passing, that our correspondant too regards winning control of political power as necessary.

There are indeed other things which a considerable number of socialists can do within capitalism apart from the propaganda and electoral activity that any movement seeking to win political control by democratic means must engage in. We have always recognised "the need for the growing socialist movement to formulate its general plans in advance of the capture of political control, so that society might be transformed in a smooth and speedy manner" (as we put it in the Introduction to our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative). This would no doubt involve the socialist movement, and workers generally, preparing programmes of action for immediate implementation at workplaces and in such fields as education and health once political control has been taken out of capitalist hands. Needless to say. today we cannot do much more than say this will be necessary, since the exact details of such plans will have to be left to the time when the socialist movement will be very much stronger than it now is.

Letter: Two questions (1989)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two questions

Dear Editors.

I have recently read a copy of the Socialist Standard and I am heartened to see that there are still people who are prepared to stand by real socialist principles, without getting caught up by bureaucracies or being prepared to sell-out their class for the £ sign.

I would like to know, what is the Socialist Party of Great Britain's view of ‘Democratic Centralism'' and what do the SPGB think of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?
Neil Duncan,

We are opposed to so-called ‘democratic'' centralism, which was an organisational form advocated by Lenin under which there is strict control from the centre. In theory the centre — or leadership, as it is permissible to describe it in this context — is only carrying out the democratic will of the organisation as decided at its congress. In practice, however, the leadership is normally easily able to manipulate the congress to back its line and re-elect its nominees to the leadership posts. As a result, all Leninist organisations, such as the Communist Party, the SWP and the Militant Tendency, are undemocratic, leadership organisations controlled from the top down: when the central committee says turn right then the ordinary members must turn right, when it says turn left then they must turn left.

Our conception of the principles of socialist organisation is somewhat different, as outlined in our recently-published New Members Handbook:
The Socialist Party of Great Britain (usually known these days as the Socialist Party) was established in June 1904 — mainly by workers who were expelled or resigned from the Social Democratic Federation. The SDF was dominated by a leadership. The new party was determined to be fully democratic — having no leader, no central committee with powers over the membership, and no intolerance of open internal discussion. The first organisational principle of the Socialist Party is that all members are politically equal. Some members will have developed greater abilities in certain fields than others, and experience of membership is bound to deserve some respect. But, when it comes to making decisions, all members carry an equal vote. If a majority of members decide that something is to be done, no member or committee can override that, although minorities are always at liberty to argue against majority decisions. The organisational principle which follows from this is that the Party as a whole can make decisions which all Branches and members must implement, and Branches locally can make decisions for themselves, as long as these do not conflict with agreed Party policy.
We are for a world without, not just nuclear weapons but any other kind of weapons either, be they chemical, bacteriological or so-called conventional. But we know that this is not possible without abolishing capitalism since it is the very nature of capitalism that leads to wars, the permanent threat of war and to the need for states to be armed with the most destructive weapons they can afford.

Under capitalism — which exists all over the world including in a state form in countries such as Russia and China — capitalist firms and states are in permanent competition over markets, raw material sources, investment outlets, trade routes and strategic places to protect these. War is essentially the continuation of economic policies by military means. This does not mean that competing capitalist states resort to war at the drop of a hat. but it does mean that they always have to be prepared for it; not only to be able to win should one break out (as over the Falkland Islands in 1982) but also to be taken more seriously — and so obtain better results— in the bargaining and diplomatic jockeying for position that goes on all the time against capitalism's background of economic conflict. As one Labour leader argued in 1959, pleading against those who wanted to commit the Labour Party to unilateral nuclear disarmament, "when I'm Foreign Secretary, I don't want to have to go naked into the Conference chamber'. He never did become Foreign Secretary himself, but he needn't have worried: none of the Foreign Secretaries in the various Labour governments under Wilson and Callaghan in the 60s and 70s ever had to go into any conference chamber unclothed with nuclear weapons. And. we are prepared to bet, nor would any future Labour Foreign Secretary under Kinnock or his successor.

This understanding that capitalism and armaments are indissolubly linked leads us to concentrate on working for the establishment of socialism as the only way to achieve universal and lasting disarmament, conventional as well as nuclear. It is also why we do not support organisations like CND which futilely seek to remove the effect (nuclear arms) while leaving the cause (capitalism) untouched. CND also has other defects, like being heavily infiltrated by people sympathetic to the state capitalist regime in Russia.

But even if nuclear weapons were abolished under capitalism (which we don't believe for one moment could happen). the knowledge of how to make them would remain. So should war break out in a non-nuclear capitalist world, then nuclear weapons would soon come back. As Thatcher, who knows a thing or two about how capitalism works, has reportedly said, “any war in a non-nuclear world would simply be reduced to a race for the first nation to build a bomb" (Independent, 10 February 1988). For once she's right. The only way to rid the world of nuclear weapons for ever is not nuclear disarmament under capitalism but the abolition of capitalism with its built-in drive to war.

50 Years Ago: Rosa Luxemburg on the Co-operative movement (1989)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Co-operative Societies are no more able than trade unions to end capitalism. As Rosa Luxemburg points out (pp. 35-6) they can survive within the present system only if they become pure capitalist enterprises. They have to compete with capitalist firms, and to do so successfully they must adopt capitalist methods of production.
  “Labour is intensified. The work day is lengthened or shortened, according to the situation of the market. And, depending on the requirements of the market, labour is either employed or thrown back into the street. In other words, use is made of all the methods that enable an enterprise to stand up against its competitors in the market. The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production . . . are obliged to take toward themselves the role of the capitalist entrepreneur—a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives, which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving”.
How capitalist the co-operatives have become in England may be seen from the fact that their employees, like employees in any capitalist concern, have frequently had to strike against their conditions of work.

[From a review of Rosa Luxemburg's "Reform or Revolution". Socialist Standard, March 1939.]

SPGB Meetings (1989)

Party News from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard