Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Socialist Sonnet No. 151: What Choice to Be Had? (2024)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog 

What Choice to Be Had?

Conservatives are the honest party

As it’s not their intention to deceive,

But make a virtue from what they believe:

Capitalism’s the best that can be.

Labour, meanwhile, has carefully nursed

A leftish image when it arranges

Sops and reforms, although little changes,

That can be quickly and easily reversed.

Neither will hinder private wealth taking,

While pursuing general prosperity

Via perpetual austerity

For all those who must work at wealth making.

Whichever party might suffer defeat,

The choice will be between con or de ceit.

D. A.

Islam: sigh of the oppressed (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bloody conflicts of the Middle East have complex causes — economic, strategic, religious and racial. But there has been little attempt by the western media to try to understand the whole picture. Instead there is a tendency to attach simplistic labels — "extremists", “fanatics”, "terrorists"— But those labels tell us very little. They offer nothing in the way of explanation. Instead we are given partial pictures of the bits of the Middle Eastern conflict that it is assumed are of interest to the west — the humanitarian efforts of medical workers in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon; the naive attempts by Terry Waite to get western hostages released; the covert attempts by the American government to do deals with the Iranians.

But we are given very little that enables us to understand why Palestinians were under siege in refugee camps; why Israel invaded southern Lebanon; why armed groups are holding westerners hostage; why Islam is such a potent force throughout the Middle East; why Iran and Iraq are still engaged in a bloody war.

The Sword of Islam
Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. Five times a day 900 million Moslems turn towards Mecca and kneel down to pray. It is a religion closely related to both Christianity and Judaism. Indeed Mohammed is seen as the last and greatest in a line of prophets that includes Moses and Jesus. Until the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam it was a religion of no more political importance than any other. As Islamic countries developed economically there was increasingly a separation between religion and politics. Religion, as was the case in most developed countries. was something separate from business, trade and politics, an anachronism that fitted uneasily with the demands of modern capitalism, to be paid lip service to only on high days and holidays.

The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 changed that. Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran by exploiting the thwarted aspirations of the poor who had seen Iran grow rich under the Shah but were excluded from a share in that wealth. The Shah's close ties with the west — especially America — meant that it was easy for the Ayatollah to shift the blame for the poverty of the Iranian people on to the effects of western involvement in Iran. According to Islam westerners are infidels; according to the Ayatollah America is the "great Satan". In place of the huge disparity between rich and poor and decadent western culture the Iranian people were offered a revolutionary Islamic programme that combined religion with politics, the establishment of an Islamic republic with the Ayatollah at the helm. All Iran's problems would be solved, it was claimed, if there was strict observance of Islamic law. The inevitable failure of the regime to deliver the social justice that had been promised could easily be blamed on the vestiges of American imperialism.

Iran-Iraq Bloodbath
In 1980, shortly after the Iranian revolution, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq took advantage of the turmoil in Iran to settle outstanding Iraqi territorial claims (as well as historic Arab grievances against Iraq's Persian neighbour). Iraq invaded Iran at a time when Iran was weakened by purges of the army, minority uprisings and internal chaos, with the aim of recovering land along the frontier as well as regaining control of the strategically important Shatt al-Arab waterway. But what is essentially a territorial conflict has been hugely complicated by longstanding racial and religious hostility between the two countries.

Iraq is controlled by the Ba'ath party under Saddam Hussein. Ba'athism is a secular pan-Arabist ideology which has very few supporters inside or outside Iraq. Hussein maintains his position through the activities of ruthless internal security services. And the opposition is hopelessly divided: Kurdish rebels pursuing their own nationalistic goals in the north; disaffected Shias who are more in sympathy with the Iranian "enemy" than with the Ba'athist regime but who nevertheless fear the consequences of an Iranian occupation.

Iraq's intention was to administer a swift, sharp blow to Iran. Almost seven years later it is now obvious that the Iraqi regime seriously miscalculated the strength of the Iranian resistance. For Iran has managed to turn it into a "holy war" and has made slow but inexorable advances into Iraqi territory.

Despite Iraqi weapons superiority, Iran has managed to fight back by sending thousands of young Iranian fighters to the front in wave after wave. And there seems to be no shortage of volunteers willing to die a martyr's death and thus be assured a place in heaven. Khomeini has successfully used the war and the revolution to justify each other. But he has also painted himself into a corner. Iran is now seriously weakened economically by the war. There is a strong case for ending it. However, the Iranian leadership has consistently sought to justify the bloodshed as being a necessary sacrifice in a fight to the death in a holy war. It would be difficult for the Ayatollah to now enter into negotiations to end the war without doing serious damage to his credibility as a religious and political leader.

The American Arms Connection
Another problem that the Iranian regime faces is access to weapons. Prior to the revolution America had been Iran's main arms supplier. Now Iran gets weapons from Israel (despite the regime's official anti-Israeli stance), South Korea and Taiwan. And, as has become apparent in recent months, there have also been covert arms deals between Iran and America in return for the release of western hostages held in Beirut.

For the American administration. Iran's need for weapons was a weakness which they hoped to exploit in order to open up a channel of communications with Hojatolislan Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament and likely successor to the Ayatollah. He is seen by the west as a "moderate” with the potential to give the Americans a way back in to this economically and strategically important area. As we now know, American attempts to "normalise" relations with Iran went badly wrong. Not only has Reagan's credibility been badly damaged by the "Irangate" affair, but so too has that of the Iranian regime. If people in the west were scandalised at the hypocrisy of an American government which used emotional rhetoric about not doing deals with terrorists, then in Iran too there is a scandal in the making about the regime there doing deals with the "Great Satan". This has made it even less likely that the Iranians will risk further loss of face by negotiating a peace treaty with Iraq. In fact Khomeini has recently declared that his objective is to overthrow Hussein and the Ba'athist ruling party and also to capture Basra and the "holy" city of Karbala.

Flashpoint in the Lebanon
The seeds of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are well known. The consequences of that conflict have been bitter and wide-ranging but in recent years have focussed increasingly on Lebanon. Many Palestinians, dispossessed of their land, entered the Lebanon as refugees. Their presence in the south of the country and Israel's allegations that they were using bases there to launch guerrilla attacks on Israeli settlements in northern Galilee provided the justification for the Israeli army to invade Lebanon in 1982 with the declared aim of forcing the Palestinians out of southern Lebanon.

When the Israeli army entered the region Shia Muslim villagers welcomed them as liberators. For when the Palestinians had arrived from Jordan, they had taken effective control of the area. PLO checkpoints had been set up, taxes imposed and land taken away from the local people. The Shias also feared that the presence of Palestinians would lead them into conflict with Israel — a conflict which they didn't want. At first Shia villages had taken the Palestinians in as refugees. But by the time the Israeli army arrived the Palestinians had alienated the villagers who felt as dispossessed as the Palestinians themselves.

The Israeli army drove the PLO north as far as Beirut where they were trapped and finally surrendered; 14,000 Palestinian fighters went into exile. The Israeli army stayed on with consequences for the whole region.

Shia Resistance
The presence of an Israeli army of occupation in southern Lebanon and the brutality that was meted out to Shia villagers quickly turned the initial welcome into hostility and hatred. The Israelis raided their villages and Shias were killed. For them occupation by the Palestinians had been replaced by occupation by the Israeli army who maintained order with an iron fist, fearful that if they left the Palestinians would move back in.

In Beirut too, the Shias were caught up in the war between Israel and the PLO. Before they went into exile the PLO was holed up in the western part of the city. The Israelis indiscriminately blew up apartment blocks, killing PLO fighters as well as Shia civilians who had stayed in the war-torn city for fear that if they did not their homes would be taken over by Palestinians displaced by the bombing of refugee camps.

Israel had hoped that by eliminating the PLO from Lebanon their allies, the Christian Phalangists, could be restored to power in Lebanon. In fact in September 1982 the Christian President-elect. Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. The new pro-Phalangist government of Amin Gemayel could only hang on to power with the support of the American-led multi-national peace-keeping force. But it was too late for them to wield effective political power — by this time Lebanon had disintegrated into a series of armed factions battling it out for political control.

By the time that Israel was finally driven out of Lebanon at the beginning of 1985 Lebanon had become a disaster area. The Israeli ruling class had realised none of their objectives: Israel's northern border was, if anything, less secure than it had been prior to the invasion. The PLO had been driven into exile in Tunisia but the Israelis now had a new enemy in southern Lebanon — the Shias; the Christian Phalangists had only nominal power and Israel's alliance with them had been discredited as a result of the horrific massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla by Phalangist forces, which the Israelis had done nothing to prevent. But it has been the resistance by the Shia militia, Amal. which has had the most lasting effect.

In their fight against the Israeli army of occupation the Shias in Amal have shown the same willingness to sacrifice themselves as had the soldiers in the Iranian army. Their tenacity had driven back the Israelis, inflicting the most significant defeat they had ever known. Furthermore, by 1984 Amal had taken to the streets of Beirut and had entered the battle for power between the Moslems and the Christians. Amal won control of West Beirut.

The influence and example of Iran on the Shia resistance is obvious as teenage boys and young men throw themselves willingly into the bloody street fighting around the Green Line which separates Christian East Beirut from Moslem West Beirut.

But for some Amal was not religious enough. They joined Hizbollah, the 'Party of God", the most extreme of the Islamic sects, which is fighting for an Islamic republic along the lines of that in Iran. Not surprisingly Hizbollah receives massive funding from Iran. It consists of small semi-autonomous groups which use a variety of different names, each taking responsibility for their own kidnappings and murders. Their attitude towards the west and Israel is uncompromising. It was Hizbollah which was responsible for the suicide bomber who drove into the American marines base killing 240 Americans and prompting their withdrawal. Since then there has been no shortage of willing volunteers for similar missions — young men willing to die as martyrs for the Islamic cause, Hizbollah, unlike some of the other Islamic groups, is not nationalistic. Its aim is nothing short of the creation of a world Islamic republic.

Syrian involvement in Lebanon
Syria has for a long time been a key factor in the Middle East. The regime of President Hafez Assad has an interest in keeping Lebanon divided. That way, it is hoped, it can be turned into a Syrian puppet state. As a result the Syrian government has cynically exploited the divisions, offering support to first one side, then another. Syria first intervened in Lebanon in June 1976 to prevent a coalition between the Palestinians and left-wing Lebanese which would have enabled them to secure an outright victory in the civil war.

The PLO has been based in Beirut since the late 1960s and, for the last 20 years, Syria has tried to curb Palestinian aspirations for independence while at the same time giving them support in their war against Israel. The Assad regime fears a fully independent PLO for two reasons. Firstly, they are scared that such a development might provoke Israel into attacking Syria. Secondly, they fear that the PLO might make a separate peace with Israel that would leave the Syrians out in the cold. For the Syrian ruling class, the "Palestinian Question" is much too important to be left to the PLO alone.

Syria withdrew its forces from Beirut in June 1982 — after reaching a ceasefire agreement with the invading Israelis. From then until Syria's return to Lebanon this year Assad had tried to achieve Syrian objectives there by means of support for various of the armed groups. In particular Shia Muslim groups are given logistical support by Syrian intelligence and Amal was encouraged to subdue and take control of the Palestinian camps. It was their failure to achieve this objective which led to the return of the Syrian army this year.

The War of the Camps
The Palestinians in the refugee camps of south Lebanon were those who had been left behind when the PLO was forced into exile. They include many women, children and old people. As the Israelis withdrew and the civil war continued, they were caught in the crossfire between the rival militias fighting to secure control of the rubble that was once Beirut. Amal's control of the area around the camps and their long-standing resentment towards the Palestinians led to the camps being laid siege to. The inhabitants were forced to live in appalling conditions of squalor and starvation, risking being shot at if they left the camp in search of food. It was this worsening situation which led to the return of Syrian troops. The refugees in the camps had no option but to accept the protection of the Syrian army.

The Bloody Reality of the Middle East
It is necessary to describe the shifting alliances, political manoeuvrings and shady deals of the ruling class in the Middle Eastern countries for an understanding of the complex web of war and politics in that region. But to do so gives little insight into the millions of lives that have been blighted through war, poverty, insecurity and fear or into the future of children who are growing up in an atmosphere of racial and religious hatred and bloodlust. Each piece of the complex Middle East jigsaw represents millions of scarred lives.
  • The Iran-Iraq War is still going on. Hundreds of thousands of lives have already been lost; millions of people have been maimed for the sake of a small stretch of strategically important water and the political credibility of the leaders of the two countries. For this, ordinary workers are being sent in wave after wave to the front as cannon fodder.
  • The Israeli invasion of Lebanon achieved nothing even in terms of the objectives of the Israeli ruling class. As well as lives being lost on both sides, the experience of life under yet another army of occupation has driven still more people into the bloody arms of Islam. And Israel continues to launch raids on South Lebanese villages claiming they are "terrorist" strongholds. It is often civilians — women and children included — who are killed.
  • The PLO, newly reunited under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, is likely to launch a new campaign in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Guerrilla attacks in those areas will be met by mass arrests, detentions and deportations of Palestinians and pre-emptive and retaliatory strikes by the Israeli air force across the Lebanese border.
  • Lebanon continues to be torn apart by civil war. Palestinians in the refugee camps are protected for the moment by Syrian troops, but the Syrians have no control over Hizbollah which is not fighting for control of West Beirut but for a world Islamic republic.
It is tempting to see the Middle East as inhabited by religious fanatics willing to die for causes that we have no understanding of. let alone sympathy with. But fundamentalist Islam has grown out of the same roots as evangelical Christianity in the United States and similar reactionary religious movements elsewhere in the world — discontent and alienation. That so many young people are willing to die as martyrs in the hope that they will then have the key to paradise says something about the misery of their lives here on earth. For the very countries where militant Islam has the most adherents — Iran, Egypt. Lebanon — are the very same countries where the ostentatious wealth of the minority is on display in the cities while the vast majority live in grinding poverty. It is not difficult to understand the anger and resentment that is caused. Neither is it difficult to see how that wealth and opulence, and the decadence and corruption that often go with it. comes to be identified with "the west". It is often the multi-nationals who own and build the luxury hotels that the poverty-stricken workers who built them will never have the opportunity to enter; foreign companies that exploit them in factories, mines and oilfields. And the ruling class is quick to adopt western lifestyles. Little wonder then that the poor are attracted to a religion that portrays the west as "the Great Satan" — bleeding the workers of the Middle East, imposing "their" alien and decadent culture. Little wonder that the deceptively simple solution of the establishment of an Islamic republic which promises justice and a restoration of traditional values and codes of behaviour, should seem attractive. As Marx wrote:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.
But Islam, unlike opium, will not numb the pain caused by years of bloodshed.
Janie Percy-Smith

Blogger's Note:
Janie Percy-Smith's article also included the following informational material reproduced below in separate, standalone boxes.


Although the Islamic revolution in Iran was successful, there had been similar rumblings in Egypt in the 70s. Ever since then Islamic fundamentalism has been on the increase, especially among the young, who are disillusioned with a system that has failed them and who harbour a deep-seated resentment which goes back to Nasser's accession to power in Egypt. Moslem militants helped him to power but, in his bid to create a modern state, Nasser crushed Moslem militancy. That resentment was increased by Egypt's defeat in the 1967 war against Israel. Moslem leaders saw that defeat as a punishment for the country's desertion of Islam.

Nasser was succeeded by Anwar Sadat who trod a tight-rope between his aim of building a modern capitalist state with the help of western investment, and his image as a devout Moslem, largely put on to placate the Islamic militants. A few Egyptians got very rich, but at the same time people were leaving the countryside which was no longer able to support the rapidly expanding population. They entered the cities in search of waged work and were condemned to live in poverty and squalor alongside the wealth that their labour had created. Islam seemed to provide a means for understanding their situation.

In 1977 Sadat cut subsidies on basic foods in an attempt to deal with the country's worsening economic situation. There were riots and Sadat was forced to back down Instead he took a gamble — to sign the Camp David Agreement with Israel — the enemy of Islam and the cause of Egypt's humiliation in the 1967 war. Under the agreement Jerusalem, which contained the third most important Moslem shrine, was to remain in Israeli hands. In return for the agreement America promised increased aid. But this did little to appease the fundamentalists who protested at what they saw as a sellout. Sadat responded by cracking down on the Moslem Brotherhood — the main Islamic group. As a result Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

Since then there have been no concessions made to the fundamentalists by Sadat's successor, Mubarak. Their protests have been met by repression which has served only to harden their determination. Islamic self-rule as in Iran is increasingly seen as the solution to all their problems and some groups, at least, are willing to use any means at all to achieve that objective.


In April this year, while the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were still under siege in the camps in Lebanon, the Palestinian National Council (the highest policy-making body for the 4-5 million Palestinians scattered around the world) met in Algiers. In recent years the PLO has been divided by internal dissension and leadership battles. But Yasser Arafat, leader of the mainstream Fatah movement, and a shrewd political operator, successfully reunited the PLO under his leadership. However, in order to secure his position he had to make concessions to hardliners like George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. These concessions include the distancing of the PLO from Egypt's President Mubarak, considered to be too soft on the Israelis, an escalation in the armed struggle against Israel and the demand that the PLO have the sole right to represent the Palestinian people at any future international peace conference.

These concessions will make the holding of such a conference unlikely. Israel will not agree to sit down at a negotiating table with the PLO. Relations with Jordan — one of the prime movers behind the proposed conference — are now strained because of the more militant stance adopted by the PLO. Both Jordan and Egypt have already agreed that the PLO will not be invited to an international conference unless it first endorses UN Security Council resolution 242 which implicitly recognises Israel's right to exist. The PLO is unlikely to do this.


The invasion of Lebanon by Israel was a disaster not only in military terms but also in political terms. The official justification for the invasion defence of Israel's northern borders was not considered sufficient by many Israelis. The national consensus on defence, which had existed since the founding of the state of Israel, was broken. For the first time there was a significant number of Israelis who were willing to accept the consequences of being conscientious objectors in a highly militaristic country. There were demonstrations against the war and some of the demonstrators were army officers appalled at what they had seen in Lebanon. The news of the barbaric massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps and Israel's connivance in it increased the revulsion of some sections of the population against the war

But, while some Israelis are at last asking questions about whether "secure borders" are really worth the cost in human lives, there are others who are motivated by a religious fanaticism that bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Islamic fundamentalists. It is these right wing Jewish militants who regard Jewish settlement on the West Bank as necessary — whatever the cost. The Kach movement, led by Rabbi Meir Kahane, is a racist political movement which wants to expel all Arabs from the Jewish state. The right wing are a minority — but a minority that is increasingly attractive to many young Israelis disillusioned with the failure of the political solutions so far offered. Just as Islam offers its adherents certainty in place of ambiguity, simplicity instead of complexity, and a morally superior cause for which to fight, so too does right wing Judaism offer its adherents absolutes as well as a "Promised Land" of milk and honey instead of poverty and insecurity.

And that insecurity looks set to continue. For the last 30 months Israel has been ruled by a coalition government made up of the Labour Party under Shimon Peres, currently Foreign Minister, and the right wing Likud Party, under Yitzhak Shamir, currently Prime Minister. That coalition looks more and more fragile and is likely to break up over the question of an international Middle East peace conference as proposed by the United Nations. Peres is broadly in favour of participation in such a conference. Shamir is opposed. Like the population as a whole the government is divided on the question of “land without peace" or "peace without land". Those who defend the idea of a "Greater Israel" — including the right — are opposed to the idea that any of the land captured in 1967 — the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights — should be given back. The Palestinians are unlikely to agree to a solution which did not include at least this.

The morning after the night before (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

What will you be doing on the morning after? Will your life be radically changed? Will you wake up and detect a new freshness in the air, a new sense of hope oozing out of the environment? Or will you feel terrible, like a person who has just lost everything as a result of someone else's incompetence? Will it make any difference to you? Will life be just the same? Might it just as well have never happened?

No, we are not talking about a nuclear war. You will notice that alright. It will transform your life — probably in the most profound sense: by terminating it. And if it does not kill you. you will probably wish it had.

But the morning after the election will be another story. No mushroom clouds, cities reduced to rubble, panic in the shelters. The morning after the general election all that there will be is the fading enthusiasm of the TV pundits trying their hardest to stay awake until the final result and the isolated groups of party activists nursing hangovers induced either by success or failure combined with the cheap price of booze in the Town Hall bars next to where the ballot papers are counted.

For most people — workers who run society from top to bottom by sweeping the streets and driving the buses and operating the computers and looking after the sick — the morning after the general election will be very much like the day before it. It will be wage or salary slavery as usual.

For workers the same problems will exist the day after the election as the day before it. Most of us do not like working for bosses and paying the bills and living in a stressful and dangerous society and fearing the possibility of war. Not one of those problems will be gone the day after the election. Not one of the politicians in the election will have even promised to attend to those problems. That is working-class life and those are its problems. According to the politicians there must always be working-class life; capitalism in one form or another must always exist. And so it will, the morning after the election.

Of course, there will be some workers who will wake up the next morning (if their excitement ever allowed them to sleep) full of joy because their chosen party has won. Tory voters will be dancing all the way round the nearly-paid-for mock-antique furniture as they read in the Mail or the Express how Maggie swept home like a horse in the Derby. Five more years of good old Tory capitalism. Labour or Alliance voters might be doing equally pointless victory dances: ' Hooray, we've ousted Maggie". Now what? A deal between Labour and some or all of the Alliance? Roy Hattersley administering the capitalists' Treasury instead of Nigel Lawson?

But most workers will not be dancing or cheering or even smiling. Even most of those who voted (and millions will not have even done that) will have only done so in the knowledge that it will make little difference — or that it might at least keep the other lot out — or because of family tradition. Most voters in elections are far less stupid than they might be thought to be: they are not taken in by all the nonsense spewed out by politicians. Many workers know that capitalist elections will not change their lives.

The morning after the election try finding a politician to discuss your problems with. Of course, you might find the odd few sleeping in the streets after the booze-up the night before. In some cases there will even be an election office still open while the furniture is moved out and the posters ripped down. But let us imagine that you contact your prospective MP the morning after the election. You invite him or her around to discuss their ideas or examine your problems or just to meet the family. S/he will be nowhere to be seen. The day after the election the leaders who were so anxiously seeking your attention, who told you that you were the most important people in the world, will not be seen for dust. If you manage to approach them they will tell you to get lost — or, if they have won. to make an appointment to see them at their convenience. The morning after the election one thing will be crystal clear: you do not matter any more. You have spent your political power and that's it for five more years — four if you're lucky.

So, the morning after the election the homeless will still be unhoused and the unemployed still on the social scrapheap and the hungry still too poor to buy food and the millions who are being robbed daily by the wages system will still be having their lives stolen away from them. The day after the election will be a bloody miserable day. And for none will it be more miserable than for those who know how easy it would be to change the whole rotten set-up and establish a society fit to live in.
Steve Coleman

Islington South and Finsbury Election Campaign (1987)

Party News from the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Election countdown: What governments can and cannot do (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Social problems are not caused by governments: they cannot be solved by governments of Left, Right or Centre. The buying and selling system is the cause of social problems. The Socialist Party is the only party in Britain standing in the next election for the end of the buying and selling system, and its replacement with a new social system — socialism: a world of free access to wealth based on co-operation.

It is an old dodge of politicians to blame the cause of social problems on the government of the day and then, if those whingeing politicians become the government themselves to switch the blame (correctly) on the uncontrollable forces of the market. So, we find the Tory politicians in 1979 blaming the Labour government for social problems in Britain:
Their favourite but totally false excuse is that their appalling record is all due to the oil crisis and the world-wide economic depression.
After a few years they were themselves using exactly the same excuse that they had found unacceptable when it came from Labour: 
There has been a world recession, not our fault. Germany, France, Europe are suffering as well. Some are suffering even worse . . . there are other countries that have even worse unemployment than we have, some less, all are struck by world recession.
(Guardian 7 March 1983)
Governments are virtually powerless to control the capitalist economic system. We have to submit to the dynamics of capitalist economics in the same way as we do to natural forces like the weather and the tides.

Why are these forces out of control? Firms need to sell goods on the market but they do not know with enough certainty how big the market is. Also businesses compete with each other for sales and profits. Countries also compete for sales of their products and so there can be no agreement about the amount each produces. This can lead to "overproduction" for some firms — production of more items than can be absorbed by the market — and prices may fall to sell off excess stock. This can have a knock-on effect so other industries are also affected. If the combined effect is big enough this results in depression, with consequent heavy unemployment.

Of course there are some things that governments can do to give the illusion of control. They can pass laws, control the money supply, cut or increase taxes and so on. But governments cannot:
  • control the fluctuation of supply and demand on world markets any more than farmers can control the weather.
  • control recessions. If they could they would also have the means of preventing them.
  • produce wealth. All resources have to come from taxes etc. on profits made in the productive sector of the economy. This is why Labour governments like any other must maintain profitability and have in the past adopted income policies to hold down wages and cut public spending.=, introduced prescription charges and so on.
Socialists want a world without markets, without buying and selling and without money. A society where wealth is owned in common and we, as the wealth-producing workers, have direct control over how that wealth is distributed. In a socialist society things would be more orderly and secure and we would be able to control production in a way that is not possible now. As a result the community would be able to pass on information about what it needed directly to the producers. The only questions which would need to be asked would be:
  • what are the needs of the population?
  • have we the raw materials?
  • have we the labour skills?
  • have we the technology to meet these needs?
In socialist society both "overproduction" and shortages will be things of the past. In a rationally organised society enough of the best could be produced for everyone.

Unemployment, job insecurity, crime and poverty as well as housing difficulties have all increased under the Tories in spite of promises to alleviate these problems. There is no evidence that Labour or the Alliance will do any better. Think hard before you cast your valuable vote. Which do you want? A system which cannot be controlled or socialism?
Cliff Begley

Most parties going into the next election stand for:
  1. A system in which a few people own the vast majority of the wealth and the majority own little save their ability to work.
  2. A commitment to running the buying and selling system where goods are produced not to satisfy people’s need but only when there is profit in it for the owning minority.
  3. A system of coercion by the state to protect the interests of the capitalist class.
  4. The keeping in readiness of armed forces for use against powers who might threaten the markets, trade routes and sources of raw materials essential to the owning minority's wealth.
  5. A system of employment whereby the majority of people have to work in exchange for money from the minority who own the land, factories and so on or rely on state benefits.

The Socialist Party stands for:
  1. Common (not state) ownership of what is in and on our world. Everyone will own everything or nobody will own anything.
  2. Democratic control of what is produced, using information technology. When wealth has been produced all will freely take what they need to live and enjoy life. Wealth can be produced in abundance and people would soon adjust to taking only what they need as they now do with tap water.
  3. The abolition of the state and the end of coercion.
  4. Ending international competition over markets, trade routes and raw materials. Establishing world co-operation. All the resources pumped into the war machine could then be diverted to socially useful purposes.
  5. Ending the wages system. Work will be co-operatively organised on a voluntary basis. The incentive to work will be the maintenance of socialist society, with its material wellbeing for everyone.

Running Commentary: Up, up and away (1987)

The Running Commentary column from the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Up, up and away

June is bursting out all over. And one of the biggest balloons fit to bust is that of Richard Branson, who is putting all his ego into one basket to fly in a hot air balloon across the Atlantic.

It's a strange thing for anyone to do. least of all him  surely he can afford a seat on one of the Virgin Atlantic flights. Of course it's being presented as a challenge. The media loves dramatic pictures of the rich wasting their money in ever more extravagant ways. The same reasons, the same "get up and go" mentality that is supposed to drive Richard Branson as a high-flying capitalist, breaking new markets, also apparently force him to break daft records (“Mr Branson, why do you exploit the working-class?" "Because it's there.").

The real basis behind the Atlantic crossing is as one part of the publicity for Virgin and Branson's plans to turn his £260 million business into a billion pound concern and from there make Virgin the biggest entertainments multinational in the world. That's all you'll be seeing on TV this month when the cameras cover the ocean crossing — one big advert.

Richard Branson is one of Margaret Thatcher's favourites. She originally wanted him to lead a campaign to encourage more adventurous entrepreneurial activity among British business, but he preferred the national litter brigade that is UK 2000.

As far as Thatcher is concerned never mind fly across the Atlantic, he could walk across it. His life reads like one of her speeches: he set up a small business running a record shop at the age of twenty and after fifteen years he had amassed a personal fortune worth £160 million (the average owner of a record shop would have to save their wages for ten thousand years to get that). What is not so widely known, glossed over in the life story, is that Branson found himself in a pickle early on when he tried to defraud Customs and Excise of £60,000 and was only saved from prison by his youth; and that his climb started with the help of £10,000 from a friend. Obviously the lesson for us all is that the only way to get on inside capitalism is to have the right friends and the right lawyer.

In fact, while Richard Branson is cooped up in his pressurised aluminium capsule 35.000 feet above the Atlantic for a week or so (it's his companion I feel sorry for), the profits from Virgin record company won't suddenly dry up. The money will keep rolling in — he may break records but you can be sure he plays absolutely no part in making any records. Richard Branson is not needed, he's redundant, like anyone who lives off ownership, off the work of others. It's bad enough having these parasites, but to have them parading themselves on TV . . .

Ministering to women

The Labour Party has promised that if it is elected to government it will establish a Ministry for Women with Cabinet status. A party policy document, Labour's Ministry for Women, refers scathingly to male domination within society:
With few exceptions, men make the laws, administer the laws, carry out ministerial decisions. control our industries, run our public services and negotiate pay and working conditions. Women are not in positions to articulate their demands or to ensure their needs are considered.
To overcome this male domination, Labour proposes that the Minister for Women should sit on key cabinet committees and have regular access to the Prime Minister. A House of Commons Select Committee would be set up to monitor the Women's Ministry which would be directly responsible for sex equality legislation and the updating of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts.

For many women workers, dissatisfied with the double burden of (low) paid work outside the home and unpaid housework and childcare inside the home, fed up with the lack of good child-care facilities and concerned about health issues that particularly affect them, Labour's proposal may seem attractive.

And if Labour's analysis of the problem (as quoted above) were actually correct there might be a certain logic to setting up a Ministry for Women. But, while it is true that most (though by no means all) positions of power and influence are occupied by men, to say, as Labour does, that "men make the laws, administer the laws . . .", gives a highly misleading impression. It would be more accurate to say that a small handful of men and one or two women make the laws, and control industry and society while all the rest of us - men and women - never get a look in.

And while it is also true that in many areas of life women workers do get a worse deal than men workers and a Ministry for Women just might ensure a higher degree of equality with working men, that equality will be worth very little if it still means, as it will, that a handful of people own and control wealth and monopolise power while the rest of us are excluded from a share in either.


The look of scepticism takes a moment to register. You sense the turmoil going on in the mind. There is a short embarrassed laugh. "Well, of course, it's feasible, but unlikely ever to happen". Have you suggested something outrageously shocking? No, you have just presented the case for socialism. This initial acquaintance with socialism can cause severe shock to those who derive their attitudes toward life from daily helpings of the Express, or Telegraph.

Your interlocutor, still confused at having their illusions about society shattered, fixes you with a glittering eye and proceeds to catalogue reasons why socialism will remain a Utopian ideal. "We need leaders" . . . "Human beings are inherently aggressive" . . . "You will never convince the majority" . . . "The task is too daunting". A look of triumph replaces the previous incredulity as they bathe in the self-congratulatory assumption that your argument has been totally refuted.

Why should the concept of socialism prove such a difficult one to handle? For socialists the case is self-evident. The benefits of socialism are as obvious as the solution to yesterday's crossword.

However, as the prevalent ideas in society are those of the ruling-class, then the socialist propagandist has to contend with a lifetime's brainwashing. To many people, fed on a diet of carefully controlled misinformation by the media, the word socialism evokes a Pavlovian response — Reds under the bed. shortages and dull conformity — not forgetting the ultimate threat to civilisation, the replacement of Eastenders with an endless re-run of Politburo speeches. Socialism, of course, stands for none of these absurdities.

Socialists do not pretend that the transition to socialism will be perfect. However, when the world belongs to everyone and decisions are arrived at democratically by all involved in those decisions, who needs leaders? There are violent — sick — individuals in society, it is true, but contrast that with the massive, legalised, institutionalised violence committed by the state on behalf of its capitalist rulers.

The task of persuading the majority of the working class that wage slavery is not in their interests and that the means of creating a better society lie in their power, may appear daunting but to paraphrase Marx (Groucho); socialism is one club that should have us all as members.
Dave Coggan

Socialism at the polls (1987)

Party News from the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
In view of the current general election in which we are fielding a candidate in the Islington South and Finsbury constituency in London, and to give an idea of our approach to election campaigning generally, we publish below the speech given by our candidate in Swansea in last month's local elections to an open forum which was also addressed by the local Alliance and Green Party candidates.
We realise that in elections there is usually a strong emphasis on the candidate and his personality. However, our campaign has not followed that trend. Our concern is not to put across our candidate — myself — as somehow better than the other candidates. I'm not.

Our concern is to put forward our view of the society we live in and of how we can all peacefully work together to change that society for the better. We do not believe that it is particular politicians that are to blame for the problems that face us. but rather an unjust and irrational way of organising our society. So what we put forward is not a new set of leaders (there are already too many of those) but instead an alternative way of organising our community.

Local issues in their context
We also realise that, this being a local election. the other parties will be fighting it on local issues. Again our way is to go beyond this, because local issues when looked at closely are always part of wider issues and of wider causes. Swansea is not an island but part of a far wider society and the solutions of local issues are to be found in alternative ways of organising that wider society.

The stark reality of life today is that human needs and environmental needs come a poor second to the demands of money. The main motive for work activity today is primarily to make money and profits. The things we need are not produced, in the first instance, to satisfy our needs. They are produced for someone else's profit. And that is the only way that goods and services can be produced, for the means of producing wealth — the factories and the farms — are owned by a small minority of the population. Production can only take place in their interests. The factor which the owning minority will inevitably use in deciding whether production takes place is "how much will it cost?"

If they can afford to make something — if they will make money instead of losing money — then production will go ahead. But if profits are not made then production is stopped, regardless of human need for goods and services and regardless of the obvious consequence of higher unemployment.

The services in this area — health, housing and transport — can only be run to the extent that the amount of money available will permit them to run. Local provisions for care of the environment and for curbing pollution are only enacted as far as the profit system will allow.

The cut-back in the emergency unit of Singleton Hospital demonstrates this. There is clearly a vast human demand for this service. Yet it has been reduced in the ceaseless attempt to save money. A second, more recent example is the case of the Parc Beck allotments on the edge of the Uplands Ward. A recent letter in the Evening Post sums up the situation better than I can. G. Carr of Glanmor Road talks of the pleasure he has experienced growing food and making friends on his allotment. He also notes the variety of bird life on the allotments. Despite all this the allotments are to be sold off for development. The title to his letter — "Really Sick as Money Wins Again" — sums it up very well.

The solution: common ownership and free access
So what then is the solution? Well, we've nothing against the individual members of the owning minority. Most of them are in their positions through birth and they only remain in their wealthy positions because the majority — us — allow them to stay there. So what we're asking for is a new outlook from the majority, an outlook that challenges the assumptions we are brought up on: that those with power and wealth deserve what they have. That those without a lot of money should have to work either for those that have or for a coercive state bureaucracy that seeks to dominate our behaviour in all aspects of life. That we owe obedience to a nation that doesn't belong to us. That it is somehow fair and just, rational and natural, that the world is divided into employers and employees, those who buy people's labour power and those who have to sell it. We wish to challenge all these assumptions.

Instead of having a divided society — between those who possess and those who don't possess — why not organise society so that the whole idea of ownership, private or state, is redundant; where the means of producing our wealth are treated as objects and devices to be used for the common good and not for the interests of an owning minority or for the state; where the products of the factories and farms are treated as the common store of the whole community. A community where the aim is not the profit of a company or the state but the satisfaction of people's needs.

What this would mean in effect is a society without money or any other form of exchange, for in a society of common ownership how can you exchange money for something that already belongs to you? Remember that money itself is of no use. It is only pieces of paper and bits of metal. You can't fill up your petrol tank with money, or build houses with it. or make a meal out of it.

It is only in a property society where there is buying and selling — trading between owners that money has any use. As soon as we decide to treat the wealth of our society as belonging to a common store then money completely loses its purpose and becomes redundant. We instead have a system of free access where we all take freely from the common store according to our self-determined needs.

This also means that instead of being compelled to work for wages for an employer in activities that are sometimes anti-social, often boring and rarely satisfying, we rather choose work according to what suits ourselves best and what the community needs — not what some boss tells us to do to make a profit.

What I'm putting forward is a society that is based on co-operation and not, as it is at present, on competition. Where you have a system of property and buying and selling, you have an atmosphere of aggression. People compete with each other over jobs, wage levels, housing; there is a constant haggling over what is being bought and sold with each side trying to improve their own position.

At a higher level companies compete with each other for markets and profits. And at a still higher level states and nations compete — and often go to war — with each other to decide basically which country owns what, which country has access to important raw materials and which country can exploit an untapped market for goods or a cheap source of human labour. By taking away property and establishing communal ownership of the world's resources we can take away the source of all this conflict.

A co-operative society could work
A lot of people will initially claim that such a view of the future is utopian and impractical. That perhaps we don't take account of human nature which is of course lazy, greedy and uncaring.

Our answer to this point of concern is that we should be careful not to confuse human behaviour with human nature. It is surely not surprising that with our competitive society people sometimes do act in a selfish and anti-social manner. In a society that values everything by its monetary value — people included — it is not likely that you will achieve a harmonious society. The mentality created by the profit system creates people isolated from each other, people who regard other human beings as a means to satisfy their own ends. This. I think, is not a genuine example of human nature, but a perverted one. It is human nature responding to an economic system that thrives on greed and aggression. We do not ask people to change for the better. What we say is that instead of letting society control us and our behaviour, let us take control of our society and make it work for our benefit.

Some of the most perverse crimes in the world do not happen through human choice but because of the demands of the profit system. By United Nations figures 40,000 people die of starvation or of diseases related to malnutrition every day. At the same time many tons of foodstuffs are stored or even destroyed if they can't be sold. The people who desperately need the food don't receive it because they have no money in their pockets — they don't constitute a market for food.

Moving nearer home, there are many thousands of people in Swansea who are living in sub-standard accommodation — some are even homeless — yet if we look around the city you'll see lots of houses, sometimes newly built, that stand empty because people who require accommodation cannot afford to buy the property. And despite the fact that there is socially useful work that needs to be done in Swansea, much is left undone because it costs too much or because there is no profit in it for anyone. And the people who could work to improve things in the city don't get the chance to do so they are forced instead to struggle to live on state unemployment benefit.

This is not merely an irrational way of organising things but wholly unjust. The cooperative society that we argue is within our grasp is something that we call socialism. But it is clearly not to be confused with what the Labour Party advocates, which is merely a reformed version of our present society with the main emphasis on state ownership rather than private ownership. Likewise we regard the Soviet Union and its empire as being quite alien to the free access and common ownership that we stand for.

Act now to reject the profit system
The alternative of the co-operative society cannot be brought about by leaders, even elected ones. It can only be established when a majority of people refuse to give their consent to the present state of affairs and act to end it. And that refusal to give consent to the profit system starts at grass roots level.

One of the best ways of showing your disapproval for the present system of society is to stop voting for political parties that support it. And to start voting for a political party that advocates a complete change in the way we organise our affairs. In this election — in the Uplands Ward — you have that opportunity.

The Socialist Party is standing for people to say no to a society of private and state ownership and production for profit — and yes to a society of common ownership and production for people not profit. You have your chance. Don't waste it.
Gareth Thomas

For the record the result was: Dilley (Con) 2125, Richards (Lab) 1431, Ford (Alliance) 963, Howells (Green) 241, Thomas (Soc) 50.

Snap, crackle, pop . . . (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who are experienced in such matters tell us that all brands of cornflakes taste the same. It has also been said that they all conform to a standard of nutrition which results in the package having more food value than the flakes. It is rather like this in the political field. The parties which are likely to get into power in this election all offer the same low level of social nutrition and politically they all have the same flavour. Their only difference is in their presentation - their packaging - and this is where they are in competition, their programmes and their leaders dressed, decorated, obscured so as to bear little relation to their true character.

This is the work — indeed, the preoccupation — of a band of manipulators known as public relations personnel. The first example of their work to spring in mind is Margaret Thatcher. Her transformation is now part of history. Her image-makers saw her hair and said it was all wrong; that is why some hapless hairdresser now labours daily to maintain that famous blonde, forehead-revealing sweep. Her voice, they found, displeased their ears; so she had to be induced to tone it with a soft huskiness. That neck-straining angle at which she holds her head when she is being interviewed for TV is not something she was born with; it was taught to her by those public relations people.

When they had finished they looked on their work and thought it was good. Then it was the turn of the experts in political presentation. The Labour government of 1974/79 had been notable for its confusion and vacillation; Thatcher would adopt the contrasting image of the prime minister who. through thick and thin, stuck to her guns because she had firm convictions. This was the stance she adopted during the Falklands war. while British and Argentinian workers were doing the actual fighting and dying. It should have cost her a lot of votes, among people who think it preferable to have peace in the world. Instead it did a lot to help her to victory in 1983.

Among her recent triumphs was her visit to Moscow, to talk weaponry with Gorbachev who, had he been a Tory election agent could hardly have done more to help Thatcher back to power. Thatcher argued that the talks would never have taken place but for Gorbachev's respect for the nuclear arms of British capitalism; therefore people should not vote Labour who are in theory pledged to cut back on those weapons. Cleverly stage managed, the tour was a veritable banquet for the media, who seemed to overlook the fact that Thatcher and Gorbachev had done little more than catalogue each other’s arsenals of mass destruction. There is still no hope that the world is safe from the great powers' capacity to destroy it many times over. The triumphant achievement of the visit was to provide Thatcher with a Gorbachev factor to help her win this election, as the Falklands factor did in 1983.

While Thatcher was strutting in Moscow, Neil Kinnock was blundering through a brief, disastrous meeting with Reagan in Washington. (Reagan has never made any secret about being an election agent for Thatcher). Labour's public relations workers are desperate to change their image but the Washington trip turned out to be another of their recent debacles.

But the work goes on; the transformation of the Labour Party cannot be allowed to rest. Their political packaging experts have decided that their historic bondage to the Red Flag was a vote loser so they have substituted a pink rose. They symbolised the new era by changing the party's campaign colour from red to a restful blue, grey and red. They prohibited Neil Kinnock to any longer thatch his hair across his baldness; Labour's Mister Nice Guy, they said, must appear frank and unashamed of such things.

Under this packaging lie the same policies which have failed in the past: basically. Labour presents the same remedies for the ailments of British capitalism as it did in 1974 . . . 1964 . . . 1945 . . . Now they are able to use this tactic that unemployment, poverty, bad housing, war and other such problems have been caused by Tory rule — as if these things did not exist before Thatcher came to power in 1979.

This election will be won by the party which comes off best in the political packaging contest. Millions of votes will be cast for what the capitalist parties appear to be — what they encourage us to think they are — and not for what they actually are. Discerning workers, asking themselves how they should vote to change society in an effective way. will peel back this packaging. They will find that these parties all taste the same, that they offer an unvarying, unnutritious deception. And that — if they will forgive the phrase —- will be the crunch.

Party News (1987)

Party News from the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Camden and North West London Branches have just concluded a series of ten propaganda meetings, jointly organised by the two branches. All the lectures dealt with subjects fundamental to the SPGB case, including democracy, reforms, war. trade unions. For each of the lectures a fact sheet was made available for distribution to the audience. These sheets gave a number of quotations relative to the subject, from party publications over a number of years, and quotes from our opponents. The quotes showed clearly the correctness of the socialist position relative to those of parties and individuals who call themselves "practical". The collection of ten sheets is an invaluable guide to all members, and in particular to speakers.

The Branches will soon be planning their next series.