Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mattei: Italy's State Tycoon (1967)

From the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Expansion of trade since World War II has brought with it the so called "economic miracles." Italy's turn came in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, when the products of its industries were sold successfully on the World market for the first time. That this had not happened before was not due to any lack of ability of its working class but rather that its capitalist class did not have a cheap and plentiful supply of fuel at its disposal. This shortcoming was overcome by the discovery and bringing into production of a large natural gas field in the Po valley.

Mattei, late president of the Italian state hydrocarbon fuel corporation ENI (developers of the Po Valley deposits), has been credited by many as being the man behind the miracle.

Born in 1906, Mattei started working for a living in a furniture factory at the age of 14, progressing to the ownership of a small chemical factory in the late 1930’s. Towards the end of the war he was Christian Democratic representative on the military resistance committee for Northern Italy. This activity put him in line for a job in the administration that was to take over from the fascists.

He got what was considered the relatively unimportant post of vice-president of AGIP (state petroleum company) with instructions to wind up its prospecting projects in the Po valley. Among AGIP’s records was a pre-war survey reporting favourable conditions in that area. Company geologists persuaded Mattei to disobey orders. Prospecting continued and by 1949 large gas deposits were found.

The next task was to get the gas to the consumer. The technical problems involved in this were insignificant in comparison with the property disputes. At the time there were no provisions in Italian law for laying gas pipelines. The AGIP was faced with years of negotiations with thousands of property owners and municipal authorities.

This situation was dealt with by ignoring normal procedures and using more direct methods. Work was started at night and armed men were employed to stand guard over trenches and equipment, leaving property owners a partly completed job on their land. It is estimated that from two to three years was saved in this way.

The chaotic conditions in Italy at the time helped Mattei in taking this short cut So did his many influential friends in parliament, and the fact that the work was carried out by a state concern claiming to be acting in the interest of the nation. In this way the Northern industrialists got their fuel: it is certain that a private or foreign firm would not have got away with it.

In 1953 the government set up ENI (incorporating AGIP as a subsidiary) with Mattei as its boss. ENI was granted monopoly rights over the Po gas deposits and tried to exert pressure to extend this to the whole of Italy. These tactics brought it into conflict with the international oil companies, who felt their interests threatened by this newcomer.

ENI frequently clashed with the ‘Seven Sisters’ (as Mattei called his rivals) not only over trade in Italy, but also internationally. Its exclusion from the group to run Abadan, and the terms it offered for concessions in the Middle-East, are examples of this. ENI’s main problem was that it failed to find its own oil supply and efforts to bypass the ‘Seven Sisters’ caused diplomatic ructions.

The purchase of oil from Russia had Italy in trouble with its NATO partners. Negotiations with FLN leaders during Algeria’s struggle for independence threw French and Italian diplomats into conflict and earned Mattei a threat of assassination from the OAS.

Mattei gained the reputation of being a shrewd, hard working businessman devoting his energies to building up ENI. In doing this he showed that a state corporation can be as ruthless and efficient in the pursuit of trade as any private concern. ENI went in for takeovers and diversification which included petro-chemicals, engineering, motels and even textiles. II Giorno one of the leading Italian daily papers, belongs to ENI and when needed was used to further its interests.

Although Mattei was a Christian Democrat backed by the Roman Catholic church, he did not hesitate to drum up support from the so called Socialist and Communist parties. Disputes with foreign competitors were publicised in terms of anti-monopoly and anti-imperialist struggles. It is typical of the political confusion of these parties that they fell for this and took sides in their masters’ quarrels.


Mattei was a rebel of sorts, but his revolt was only directed against the established oil companies; its success could end only in making ENI one of them. His contribution was in helping to change Italy from an industrial backwater into a feared and respected competitor on the world market His terms of reference were those of the profit making system of capitalism.

Mattei died in 1962, in an air crash and it was expected that ENI would break up without him. To date it continues to prosper and is still involved in the commercial brawls of capitalism. At present ENI is in dispute with Russia over building a pipeline from Siberia to Italy, and with the new ruling class in Algeria over the price of their natural gas.

Mattei has been but one of thousands of “great" men thrown up by capitalism, with its rapid industrial advances, social upheaval and war. Unlike the capitalist heroes of the past—Rockefeller, Carnegie, Nuffield—Mattei was not the owner of the industrial empire he bossed. There are other men like him, in Russia and even in Britain, running state industry in the interests of a privileged few.
Joe Carter



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

United States Farm Policy (1967)

From the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalist production is concerned with the realisation of a profit, not the satisfaction of human needs. No profit — no production, is the criterion, though millions of people are ill clad, ill housed and hungry. This is something we have said many times, and there are plenty of examples to support our claim. But perhaps one of the most outstanding in recent years has been the U.S. Government’s farm policy.

Attempts at ‘support’ for farmers in the States date back almost half a century with the first of the Farm Relief Acts just after the end of the first World War. But the foundations of modern policy were really laid in 1938, when the Agriculture Act was passed by Congress. It was an effort to ‘stabilise’ prices by a Commodity Credit Corporation, and involved loans to farmers at a specified rate. In return, the farmer had to store his grain for a fixed time, releasing it before the expiry of the period only if the market price rose above the ‘support rate’. He could then sell, repay the Corporation loan from the proceeds, and keep the remainder. If, on the other hand, the market price did not rise within the specified period, the grain was surrendered to the Corporation, who could store it or sell it at a loss, under Public Law 480 — a foreign aid measure.

Loans were made only to those farmers who planted within their allotted acreage. This system of ‘allotments’ was designed to restrict production of grain, and there was also a limitation on the range of crops a farmer could grow, to prevent him diverting to another crop and creating a surplus in that as well.

With modifications, this basic scheme has been in operation ever since, and it reflects the essential craziness of capitalist economics, and the inability of the ‘planners’ to make any sense out of it. For stripped of all jargon and verbiage, what does the U.S. Government’s policy amount to, other than the restriction of production during a slump and (as we shall see later) its increase during a boom? Perhaps the best that can be said is that they have tried to tidy up the process a bit. by eliminating some of its piecemeal aspects and pushing financial responsibility more onto the shoulders of the capitalist class as a whole. Memories of the severe depressions of earlier years, with agriculture deeply involved, have probably acted as an added spur to their efforts, and a similar attitude can be detected behind the farm subsidy programmes of other countries.

During the Eisenhower Administration, the policy was developed a stage further with the ‘soil bank’ provisions, enabling the government to lease land from farmers to save for future use. Which is just another way of saying that they were actually paying farmers to take land out of cultivation. At that time, you may remember, there was a gigantic surplus of unsold wheat which the U.S. Government had bought and was unable to release to the market for fear of depressing the price. It was stored, billions of bushels, in warehouses, ships and barges; in fact anywhere out of the way.

And millions of people starved, as usual. Some idea of the madcap state of affairs can be gained from a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation report, published at the beginning of October 1959:-
World surplus stocks in agricultural products are estimated to have risen by twelve per cent in the past twelve months, North America holding almost eighty per cent of the total. (Guardian 1.10.59.)
And so helpless were the planners in face of such conditions that by early 1965, some 57 million cropland acres had been taken out of cultivation in America. Against this background, the statements of capitalist politicians are noteworthy for their cynicism and hypocrisy. Thus, President Kennedy at the World Food Congress, in Washington on June 4th, 1963: —
  We have the ability, we have means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth. We need only the will . . .  The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation. For victory in this war will liberate the energies and the talents and the creative abilities of an entire half of mankind.
Since then, the world market for wheat and other crops has begun to revive, so that the U.S. stockpile had by the middle of last year been depleted by half, and the crisis had changed to one of underproduction. There was now a rush to bring land back into cultivation, and the upward trend of production was matched by a boost in incomes. Already in the first few months of 1966, farm cash receipts in some areas of the U.S. had risen by as much as twenty per cent. (Financial Times 22.6.66).

It is true that a lot of the produce will be sent abroad on a ‘non-commercial’ basis (as the newspapers so delicately put it) to countries like India, but this only illustrates the strong political factors also involved in the change. The American capitalist class are anxious to maintain their strategic advantages and spheres of influence in a world where they are threatened by yet another competitor in the shape of China. They will obviously consider the cost worthwhile if they can can thereby keep such areas in their pocket. Sympathy for the millions of starving Indians and other Asiatics, is not a very strong factor in their calculations.

All of which merely goes to reinforce our argument that home policies are always at the mercy of world capitalist conditions; this applies just as much to America as to any other country. It shows also the sheer unpredictability of capitalism and the inability of the planners to control it. They never planned for a wheat glut, but they got it nevertheless. Now they have been caught even more unawares by the rapidly mounting demand, and so it goes on . . .
Eddie Critchfield




In Defence of Unions (1967)

Book Review from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Militant Trade Unionism by V. L. Allen, Merlin press, 12s. 6d.

Nearly ten million workers are in trade unions in Britain yet there is a pervading air of hostility to trade unionism. Trade unions, we are told, cause inflation and disrupt production by strikes and restrictive practices. These views are shared and spread by Labour and Tory governments alike. Very rarely is a reasoned case for trade unionism put. V. L. Allen (who spent some time in jail in Nigeria recently for helping unionists there organise a general strike) attempts to do this and does it well enough. His approach is basically Marxist: In present-day society the means of production are the property of a few so that the rest, owning little but their ability to work, must sell it to an employer to live. Trade unions arise out of this market relation between employers and employees, to bargain more effectively over the wages, hours and working conditions of the employees. Strikes are built-into the system and will last as long as it does, even if they are made illegal.

Some of Allen’s points are worth repeating:
   The strike then is implicit in a free market transaction and any attempt to interfere with it alters the course of the transaction in favour of employers by adding another disability to employees. Every limitation on the ability to strike adds an element of compulsion on workers to sell their labour-power at prices largely set by employers.
  Unofficial action is informal trade unionism occurring because formal unions are incapable of fulfilling their functions satisfactorily and have, for this reason, lost some control over their members.
  Strikes are a challenge to the power and authority of employers. They challenge the prices that employers pay for labour, the profits the employers accrue from production, and their prerogative of control over the means of production.
Part of the book is devoted to discussing the series of “crises” and consequent appeals to consume less and work harder we’ve had to put up with since the war—from Cripps with his wage restraint in 1947 and wage freeze in 1949, through Gaitskell, Butler, Thomycroft, Selwyn Lloyd, (and his “pay pause”) to George Brown’s so-called incomes policy. Since Allen wrote things have got worse with the wage freeze imposed by the Prices and Incomes Act.

Allen argues that workers have been asked to make sacrifices to preserve Britain’s role as an international banker. To play this role government’s must keep the confidence of foreign investors. So, in effect, says Allen, workers are asked to make sacrifices for these foreign investors who tend to be hostile to Labour governments. Which means, we might add, that Labour governments have to be more harsh on workers to overcome this prejudice.

This is the weakest part of Allen’s book. He seems to be suggesting his own solution for British capitalism’s problems: end Britain’s international banking role; have a fluctuating exchange rate; and, in the long run, nationalisation and planning. In other words, the old state capitalism that used to be the vision of Labour leaders. What is significant is that it is now the view only of a minority of Labourites. Needless to say, none of these measures will end the commodity status of labour power (which gives rise to unions, protective practices and strikes) or help solve the many problems workers face because we are propertyless in a property society.

Despite this limitation the book is useful to defend trade unionism and refute the lies spread against it.
Adam Buick

Administration in Socialism (1967)

Letter to Editors in the June 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir:

I was interested to read A. C. Ben-Yosef’s query in the February issue about how you expect Socialism to come about, and your outline reply.

I gather you expect production and other important functions to be administered by gigantic corporations, rather on the lines of the present-day General Motors, Shell etc., except that they will be socialistic and ‘democratically controlled.' Could you please tell me how you expect this democratic control to operate?

For example, to take an analogy with a present-day capitalist problem, supposing that a new source of gas or oil is found and the relevant corporation wishes to develop it for use, and for this purpose to build a refinery. If there is objection to this refinery being built at all the feasible sites by small numbers of local residents, do you envisage that it will nevertheless be built?

To put the matter more generally: in the society you want, will ‘the public will’ be sometimes used to force compliance on uncooperative (as opposed to any sick and socially harmful) individuals ?
G. Boardman,
Todmorden, Lancs.


REPLY: 
Perhaps we did not make ourselves quite clear in our reply to A. C. Ben-Yosef. Our reference to giant corporations was merely to try to show that even under capitalism, some international organisation can operate; but these corporations would not exist in a Socialist world. Instead, the world would operate as one productive unit, with the means of life owned and controlled by the whole of society.

There would then be harmony of interests and full cooperation between people everywhere, for the sole criterion of production would be the satisfaction of human needs. Society would apply this acid test when considering productive resources, whether these were fields, factories, or gas and oil plants.

In talking of local objections, our correspondent has projected capitalism's conditions and outlook into Socialist society. Today, yes, there are many conflicting interests which push for elbow room when a plant is sited. Capitalists' concern for maximum profits and lowest costs, householders fearing devaluation of their property, workers hoping for jobs, and so on, all of which would not be relevant to Socialism. True, there could be differences of technical opinion, but these could be resolved by further research and the fullest discussion, before reaching a decision. And with man's architectural and engineering skills given full rein, there’s no earthly reason to fear that industrial buildings need mar the landscape or pollute the atmosphere.

Perhaps there will be some who still disagree with the rest, even after all the views have been aired. Well, they will be expected to (and we think that they will) accept and implement the majority decision, while reserving the right to argue against it at any time. Even remotely assuming they were still not prepared to cooperate, the majority project would still go ahead.
Editorial Committee.

Middle East War—The Aftermath (1967)

Editorial from the July 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
For Socialists the war in the Middle East has no rights or wrongs except the over-riding fact that capitalist wars are not waged for the benefit of the working class or impoverished peasants. In the opening phases the Israeli armies were everywhere victorious but the outcome no matter which armies had won on the battlefield would solve no working-class problem and would bring Socialism no nearer. As in previous wars the Socialist Party of Great Britain takes the opportunity to proclaim its abhorrence of the sordid, callous and mercenary nature of the International, capitalist class and its loyalty to. Socialism. 
Having no quarrel with the working-class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
An extract from the SPGB Statement on the Israeli Arab Conflict published as a special leaflet on June 7th 1967.
The war last month in the Middle East aroused, as war often does, many deep emotions. This was more, perhaps, than an old, familiar theme for the propagandists — poor little Belgium in 1914, poor little Poland in 1939, poor little Israel in 1967. The emotions ran deeper; they were connected with the fact that Israel was established as a refuge for the Jews after centuries of persecution culminating in the mania of the Nazis. One of Israel's basic laws is the Law of Return, which allows any Jew freely to enter the country. It was predictable that Israel under attack would find a lot of sympathy, and not only from Jews living outside Israel.

But there was emotion on the other side as well. Israel was not established out of nothing; large numbers of Arabs had to be expelled to make room for the new state, many of them from settled, fertile places. From this followed the creation of about 700,000 refugees, who have remained as a source of dispute and provocation, who find no sympathy with any of the warring nations and who are in fact cynically used to poison relationships between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

That is why the Arabs also regard the whole situation as one of offended pride and outraged morality. From its inception, Israel has been under attack but in spite of this it has steadily expanded, from the conquest of Galilee and the Negev in 1949 to the latest victory in the Sinai Desert and on the west bank of the Jordan. To the Arabs, this is nothing less than imperialism; Israel is a threat in their midst which cannot be allowed to stay there.
 
But emotion is only on the surface; the Middle East War must be seen in perspective. Firstly, it is only the latest in a long line of comparatively minor wars since the world was carved up anew by the victorious Allies in 1945. It has been a common feature of most of the so-called settlements which followed the Second World War, that they succeeded only in making new trouble spots, new tensions, new provocations. The creation of Israel is no exception to this.

A war in the Middle East is more, of course, than a number of minor powers in conflict. Always behind the scenes the big power blocs are operating, supporting one side or the other with arms and military advice, with aid and loans, as part of a larger and more menacing clash of interests. Thus the Egyptian army in the latest war was equipped largely with Russian weapons, the Israeli with British and French.

The reasons for this interest by the world powers in the Middle East is clear. The area is vital to them, for its oilfields and its strategic position astride the trade routes to Australia and the Far East. The complexities of the mass feudal sheikdoms which rule over a large part of the area, complicated by the building of modem capitalism in Israel and Egypt have made the task of keeping a diplomatic balance there a very delicate one.

Russia is clearly determined to exploit this situation, both for what she can get out of it and to cause the greatest possible embarrassment to the Western powers. When Israel was established, it was Russian policy (faithfully followed by Communist Parties everywhere) to support it; in the fighting in 1948, the Jewish forces had considerable help from Czechoslovakia. Now, Moscow’s line is exactly the opposite; Russian spokesmen denounce Israel as an aggressor.

One thing that is sure is that the Middle East’s unhappy history of tension and conflict will continue. So will the hypocrisy with which it is all supported. In the recent war, for example, all the big powers expressed their regret at the opening of hostilities, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was their arms shipments which had made the whole thing possible.

Britain, France and America all swore that they would not stand by and see Israel obliterated, conveniently forgetting that all three of them have done their share of obliterating smaller nations, when it suited their interests to do so.

And of course many British newspapers went to great lengths to picture the Israelis as the embodiment of national virtues—a people strong, but tolerant and peace-loving. Little publicity was given to the fact that the Israeli Cabinet included the one-time leader of Irgun Zwei Leumi, the movement which those same newspapers once condemned as “terrorist".

Now that the fighting is over, it is time for yet another round of “peace” talks, in which frontiers, resources and strategic points can be reallocated—and the ground prepared for the next conflict Israel has said that it wants to negotiate alone with the Arabs, but this is unlikely. The world power blocs are already too much involved and will want to impose their wishes.

These talks will have to face certain facts, one of which is that Israel is now the most powerful state in the Middle East This is what Zionism has come to: a nation founded by Jewish refugees fleeing from the memories of pogroms and the horrors of the concentration camps, is the latest exponent of tactics of the blitzkrieg, its people have become virulently nationalistic. Another irony has been written into history.

The Israeli working class were convinced that their interests lay in taking up arms against the Arabs, and in this they were supported by countless Jewish workers abroad. Some of them went even further, attaching great importance to the capture of the ancient shrines and religious symbols of Jerusalem. Here is evidence that the Israeli working class have all the delusions which are so necessary to the continuance of capitalism.

Experience, and a knowledge of capitalism, should have taught them differently. The wars of capitalism are fought to settle the disputes of its ruling classes; no working class interests are at stake in them. The problems of the Israeli workers are the same as those of workers all over the world, and they will not be solved in a war. Their interests are the same as those of the workers of Egypt, and of every other capitalist country—to unite for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism. 

Africa (1967)

Book Review from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Study of Africa Editors: Peter J. M. McEwan & Robert B. Sutcliffe (University Paperbacks 21s.)

Subject for a student’s essay: Compare the confusion caused among working class political opinion by the claim that Socialism was being established in Russia in 1917 with the effect of the same claim which has been made by the nationalist movements which have come to power in Africa.

Alright, so it will never happen; but there are some interesting parallels. In both cases, we have areas with a largely rural population and a backward society —in Africa expressing itself as a powerful and complex tribalism. In both cases we have the rise of a new ruling class, going back on their promises and offering the superficial differences between their countries and the older states as evidence that they had established Socialism. In both cases we have states being hurried into modem world capitalism, hungry for heavy industrialisation, power plant, expanding industries.

We have the imposition of dictatorship, the development of leader-worship. And we have in both cases the fact that Socialism has not happened, for the plain reason that the conditions for it were not there.

McEwan and Sutcliffe have edited a collection of papers which give a broad view of the new Africa socially, politically, economically. Here, in brief, is the background to show that at the end of the last war Africa may have been ready to take a slow and painful step towards capitalism, but no more.

In the light of this evidence of the essentially undeveloped nature of African society, we can fairly judge the claims quoted by Colin Legum:
  These aims (of the C.C.P.) embrace the creation of a welfare state based upon African socialist principles, adapted to suit Ghanian conditions... (Dr. Nkrumah). 
   The (Egyptian) Revolution laid down for itself six principles, declared in the name of the people to achieve Arab socialism. (Aly Sabry, U.A.R. Minister for Presidential Affairs.)
The Study of Africa is not a history and, apart from some tables of statistics, it gives little concrete information. It claims to be an "introduction to the study of the continent of Africa” but much of it is written in the style of a discussion, on the assumption that the reader is familiar with the subject. It does show up the intimidating complexity of African society, and some of the many problems facing the new rulers there, as they strive to drag their countries into twentieth century capitalism.
Ivan.


A World of Plenty (1967)

Editorial from the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The material and technological resources exist now to allow production of plenty on a world scale. There is no need for any man, woman or child to go without adequate food or shelter. People are today deprived of plenty because the means for producing wealth are monopolised by a few and because wealth is produced for profitable sale. This artificial scarcity is maintained by force, deception and ignorance.

A society of abundance can be created just as soon as working people are prepared to make the means for producing wealth the common property of a democratic world community.

The Socialist Party exists to help the emergence of a conscious movement to create a society of abundance. We aim to convince people that such a society is possible; to expose the lies by which the present economy of scarcity is justified; and to oppose those organisations which help to maintain this artificial scarcity. We are opposed to all governments, all other political parties, to all nationalism, racialism and religion, to all wars and preparations for war, to all restrictions on the free expression of ideas.

Wealth is not produced in the abundance it could be. Much is wasted on weapons of war. Much is of low quality. Some is even deliberately destroyed. Wealth is not owned or consumed on any fair basis: a privileged few enjoy the best of everything while most have about enough to keep them alive and working; some don't get even that. Why?

The bar to the rational use of the world's resources to meet human needs is production for profit. As wealth is produced for profitable sale on a market production is geared to the market and not to human needs. Only so much wealth is produced as is thought can be profitably sold. To keep up prices and profits production is held back and wealth destroyed.

Production for profit on a world scale means universal competition: competition for markets, for trade routes, for sources of raw materials. For most of the time this competition is economic and peaceful. Every so often it involves the scientific killing and wounding of human beings and destruction of wealth that is called war. Always it means that states must devote a part of their resources to having the best armed forces and weapons they can afford.

People depend for a living on the few who monopolise the means for producing wealth. Their share of the wealth they alone produce is limited by the price they can get from selling their ability to work, a price that can never be much more than enough to keep a man and his family in efficient working order.

This scarcity, waste and want is not decreed by some supernatural being. Nor does it arise from nature. It is man-made and can be ended as soon as man wills.

It is said that there will always be scarcity as men’s wants will always outstrip the capacity to meet them. Men are greedy and compete against each other for the scarce resources. If social chaos is to be avoided men must be restrained by instruction (religion and morality) and by force (government and law). As some give more to society than others they should be rewarded with wealth and power. So runs the defence of oppression, inequality and privilege that has been used throughout the ages.

This argument is based on the myth than men have some unchanging nature that compels them to act in certain ways. But men are social animals. How they behave depends on the society in which they live. Throughout history and pre-history human behaviour, motives and wants have varied from society to society. There is no fixed human nature, only human behaviour in society. The argument that it is human nature that demands the oppression and exploitation of man by man stands exposed as a defence of the existing unnecessary oppression, inequality and privilege.

There is nothing in the make-up of men that would prevent their rational co-operation, without coercion and as social equals, to meet their needs. Men no longer need a social organ for governing and coercing people. For the smooth running of social affairs all that is needed is an unarmed, democratic administrative centre.

Poor Kids (1967)

From the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new Minister of State at the Department of Economic Affairs, Peter Shore, is reported to be the author of one of the most embarrassing documents ever written—the 1964 Labour Party election manifesto The New Britain. For his own good we may hope that Shore’s work at the DEA will be sufficiently taxing to take his mind off the many promises made in that programme which have not been kept.

There was, for example, a lot about the alleged failures and cynicism of the Conservatives. Take a look at this:
 . . .  the nagging problems the Tories stupidly (in some cases callously) brushed aside . . .  Social Security benefits which have fallen below the minimum levels of human need . . .
Labour, we were told, would run things differently. They had, after all, come up the hard way; Harold Wilson could remember the kids without any boots, the late Nye Bevan had once made a speech about social priorities and there were even still a few miners among the Labour M.P.s, if they could be sorted out among the keen, smooth, ambitious university graduates.

The first thing to say about what are called—perhaps in jest—social security benefits is that it is nothing new for them to be falling below the minimum levels of human need. Sometimes, indeed, they have been deliberately designed that way. However outraged the tone of Labour’s manifesto, the fact is that no government ever anticipates this situation and actually pays out benefits so far above the minimum levels that they remove the danger of them falling below the level, at least for a very long time.

Instead, governments spend a lot of time investigating the fact that the benefits have fallen in value, producing recommendations to bring them up again and in arguing about whether they can afford to carry out their own recommendations.

This has been the background to every enquiry into social security. But whatever patching up a government may do they never complete the repair—as fast as one hole is plugged another opens up, and then another. No matter how they attempt to distribute the overall poverty of the working class, some section of workers is always in dire need, in conditions which are themselves a problem demanding immediate action.

So it was when Beveridge (assisted by a much younger Harold Wilson) came to the unsurprising conclusion that the scheme which had been operating before the war would be hopelessly inadequate in post-war conditions. So it was as each successive government increased one or other social security payment, hailing each rise as a permanent solution to the poverty problem. So it is now, in Harold Wilson’s heaven.

Today, about one million children in this country are living at a level below the basic National Assistance rates. Over half of these are in homes where the father is in full time employment but has a wage which is too low, or a family which is too big, or both. Many social reformers have been shocked to find out that these conditions exist, because they were supposed to have been abolished by family allowances and the other provisions of the “Welfare State”.

But apart from anything else, the buying power of the allowances has been worn away by the continuous rise in prices. On 13 March last Margaret Herbison (who was then Minister of Social Security) said that to restore the purchasing power of the ten shilling family allowance, for third and subsequent children, to the level it stood at when it was introduced would need an increase to 13/7d.

The government’s answer to this is to increase family allowances—again—by seven shillings for second and subsequent children. This will happen next April; meanwhile a part payment of an extra five shillings is being made for fourth and subsequent children. This is part of what the newspapers like to call a package deal; also in next April, school meals will go up by 6d. a day and welfare milk by 2d. a pint. The government are also considering decreasing the income tax allowance which can be claimed for children; when he announced the higher family allowances in the Commons last July Patrick Gordon Walker said:
  . . . it would be logical, in considering how it should be paid for, to consider, among other things, some adjustment of the income tax allowances which affect families.
The widespread reaction to this package deal was dissatisfaction, especially among those who had assumed that only a Tory government would stoop to imposing increases in the price of welfare foods, cutting education and so on. Margaret Herbison left the government over it, thus removing one of those useful Ministers who build for themselves a reputation for protecting the poor and underprivileged—and who have been known to use this reputation to soothe indignant and disappointed delegates at Labour conferences. Herbison’s colours, however tattered, had been nailed to the mast:
   There is no doubt that children of the low-wage earners are suffering serious deprivation at the present time and we have got to do something about it. (21 November 1966).
   .  .  . every child born should have as its very birthright the opportunity to develop to its full capacity, enjoying the benefits of a good home, education and culture. Where poverty exists, these things are not possible .  .  . (20 April 1967).
It was clear that the protesters were beating themselves against the usual brick wall and we do not have to look far to find the reason. The key to a great deal of Labour’s policy in government is their concern over the level and the direction of investment in industry. This was the motive behind the setting up of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, it is the motive behind much current taxation policy and it is the motive behind the Bill which is now being prepared, which will extend the government’s powers beyond those of the IRC and will give it a stronger hand in allocating and controlling industrial investment. All this will be done in co-operation with private industry. According to The Times of 29 August, over £100 million is likely to be spent when the Bill is passed, including “tens of millions of pounds" towards building an aluminium plant in this country. As good a description of this policy as any was given by Tory leader Edward Heath, in a statement he issued on 2 September, when he advised private industry not to kowtow to the government ".  .  . in order to get money for investment which the Labour government’s taxation makes it impossible to get inside the firm or on the open market.”

What this means is that, no matter what the theories, the desires, the hopes, of Labour supporters, there is only a strictly limited amount of money available for education, welfare foods, family allowances and so on. Within that amount the government have shuffled the figures about — increasing here, cutting there, trying to justify the imposition of a new-style means test—to try to convince everyone that they are doing something about working class problems.

Since most of the participants in the argument over family allowances have made free use of the word poverty, it is as well if we decide what we mean by it. Poverty is simply depending on a wage for a living. When a worker is in employment he may get enough to keep him at a level of poverty at which he can run a car, have a washing machine and hang those abominable strips of plastic curtaining in his doorway. But if for any reason he cannot work, or if his personal circumstances are such that his wage is stretched until it snaps, he finds himself among the statistics, under the eye of the sociologists and perhaps eventually of a Ministry.

The Child Poverty Action Group is one of the organisations which make it their business to uncover examples of this:
   A woman of 30, suffering from multiple sclerosis, with two boys of 8 and 5, writes: “We are in debt because over the last few years my husband has lost a lot of time off work to see to the children when I have been too ill to manage.”
   This year with my husband off work with his accident, I really dread Christmas. I have to try not to think of it.
  A 36-year-old man confined to a wheel chair due to polio, married with 5 children, was made redundant through the cancellation of TSR 2. Now, on sickness benefit, his financial problems are acute.
The whole point—which is missed by organisations like Child Poverty Action—is that these privations afflict only one section of the population—those who depend on their wage for a living. The other section—the capitalist class—have no money problems if they are ill or have large families and being out of work is not something which worries them because they don’t depend on working for their living. Miss Mervyn Pike, although she is the Tory Shadow Minister of Social Security, showed the Commons last December that she also knows this: “We all recognise that all large families, except those who are very rich, have greater difficulties than smaller families.”

It follows from this (although of course Miss Pike was not interested in where her opinions were leading her) that working class poverty, which sometimes becomes working class destitution, is an unavoidable product of the class division of capitalist society and there can be no cure for it as long as capitalism lasts.

This is the root reason for the failure of the Labour government, which has shocked so many of its supporters. Last April two of these—Professors Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend — signed a letter sent to all members of the Cabinet which appealed to them to “. . .  restore the Government’s sense of social priorities ” and ended “. . .  it is doubtful whether our aim can be achieved unless members of the Cabinet are prepared to consider people with problems, rather than departments with traditional responsibilities.”

There could be no more bitter condemnation than this. The Wilson government has disappointed many of its friends, it has broken its promises. Its policies have been exposed as futile, it has a long list of failures, even by its own standards, to its name; it bids fair to go down as one of the most cynical governments for a very long time. What holds it together? In The Times of 31 July there was an interesting pointed article by David Wood which ended with this passage
   By his wits Harold Wilson put Labour in power, and they know that it is only by his wits that they can stay there. That is the covenant between the Prime Minister and his troubled party, and in party politics there is none more binding.
Is this, after three years of power, what Labour has come to? If Wood is right the party which boasted they were going to build the new Britain has the same sort of “unity” as a gang of hunted criminals. Meanwhile there are still those million children, who do not understand about political infighting, or financial juggling, but who are hungry and suffering.
Ivan.

(Some of the information in this article was supplied by the Child Poverty Action Group. We thank them) .

The Review Column: Deadlock in Vietnam (1967)

The Review Column from the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Deadlock in Vietnam
In Vietnam, if we are to believe them, both sides want to end the war but neither can stop fighting. The North Vietnamese say they would like to start peace talks—if the Americans would first stop the bombing.

The Americans say they are only too willing to stop the bombing—if the Vietcong stop their infiltration and attacks.

The only thing standing in the way of breaking this deadlock, apparently, is a little matter of mutual misunderstanding of each other’s intentions.

We have, of course, heard this one before.

Modern wars do not happen because of misunderstandings, nor lack of communication, nor stubborness on the part of a country’s leaders.

At the most, these factors can only contribute to a situation caused basically by the conflicting interests of capitalist society.

These interests—economic, strategic, commercial, political—spring from the very nature of capitalism and the system cannot exist without them. They divide the world's peoples, they distort our lives, they waste enormous human resources in the quest for an ever more powerful means of waging war.

In Vietnam, the Americans are fighting desperately to protect access to the raw materials in South East Asia and because it has become a sticking point in Washington’s twenty year old struggle in the Far East.

If Vietnam goes, the surrender of the rest of Indo-China may follow. American influence and control in an area important for its mineral wealth and its markets would be severely restricted, perhaps leaving Russia and China to squabble over the spoils.

This is a typically complex and perilous struggle. Each side is committed to the stage where no end is in sight and the only consolation is the precarious fact that so far it has not developed into something worse.


Scarborough Follies
Another year, another autumn, another Labour Party conference. We have, by now, not the message. In 1963, again at Scarborough, Labour heard Harold Wilson say that a better life was just around the corner, as soon as we had a Labour government to set the scientist free.

In 1964 they heard Wilson—then Prime Minister—assure them that, with Labour in power, better times were definitely on the way.

In 1965 Wilson was on the defensive, struggling to justify his government’s incomes policy and what he called redeployment—not, he insisted, unemployment. All of this was, he said, a necessary preliminary to the better days which everyone knew lay ahead.

In 1966 it was an outright wage freeze, credit restrictions—in fact everything which under the Tories had been stigmatised as top-go—which Wilson said must be endured before we could come into Labour’s Promised Land.

This year it was the same old story. Better times are coming—in fact, Wilson can actually see the hoped-for improvements which prove to him that we are almost round the comer. But before that, there is a little matter of wage restriction, unemployment and cutting the unions down to size which must be gone through.

So it goes on, year after year.

Party conferences, as everyone now knows, have little meaning other than as exercises in public relations. This year the Labour leaders used their gathering to defend their records and, with one or two exceptions, they did it with diabolical skill.

The delegates accepted it. The wonder is that they never tire of hearing the same weary promises, the same cynical justification of broken pledges, the same old visions of prosperity just over the horizon.

Labour Party members, it is clear, are content that they will never arrive at the Promised Land. But surely even they must see that they are not even travelling hopefully?


Horizon of Horror
“If, then, man is to have a future at all, it will have to be a future overshadowed with the permanent possibility of thermo-nuclear holocaust.”
 
That was Americans Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, speaking about the decision to establish a screen of anti-ballistic missile sites in the United States.

This is another stage in the nuclear arms race. The screen is designed to counter the latest generation of Russian missiles, which were developed in answer to the Americans building up their missile stocks, which they did because they were convinced that the Russians were drawing ahead in the race . . . . 

The next stage will be more fearsomely efficient missiles, with devices designed to pierce the screen; it will be other screens by other nuclear powers, with all of them working on ways to beat the defences of the rest.

Somewhere in all this, someone is still presumably touting around the deterrent theory.

These latest devices will have to be tested, almost certainly in the air. Whether Russia or America does this first, we shall be subjected to a campaign of excuses for the breaking of the Test Ban Treaty—and of course the other side will announce itself free of all obligations under the Treaty.

The Treaty was, in fact, no more than a pause in the development of the world’s nuclear horrors, while the super powers digested their knowledge of the Bomb and built up their stocks of it. It did not mean the end of the arms race.

It did not, first of all, prevent the emergence of new nuclear powers—France and China—and it did not prevent the established powers testing their weapons, when they needed to, underground.

This situation has exhausted itself and the time has come for another lurch upwards in the crazy, murderous spiral.

If we require evidence of the increasing horror and degradation of capitalism, of its inability to satisfy human needs, we have no need to look further than the progress man daily makes in perfecting what could be the means of his own annihilation.

Work under Socialism (1967)

From the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

However man organises society, be it chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism or Socialism, work is necessary to provide his basic requirements of food, shelter and clothing. How he produces and distributes his requirements determines that society’s attitude to work.

For example the ancient Greeks considered that mechanical work, which was mainly performed by slave labour, made man unfit for the practice of higher, more civilised cultural activities.

Early Protestantism justified and made pre-eminent the conduct and feeling about work necessary for modern capitalist society. Luther thought that work was “the base and key to life".

As capitalism has developed it has been realised that constant work does not maintain the efficiency of the worker— ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'—and so concepts of leisure and recreation have in recent years been much discussed. The use of leisure under capitalism must make the worker fit for the continuation of toil, and so there have been recurring complaints against leisure activities which are considered frivolous or degrading.

It should be noted that leisure in the re-creational sense expends energy, and in that sense is work. The opposite to work, idleness, could not be continued for long for it becomes insufferably boring. Work is necessary to meet mankind’s basic requirements. Also it is necessary to maintain the full health of man’s body, physically and mentally.

One of the objections to Socialism is often framed in terms of man's laziness. Given the opportunity to have his basic needs met, it is argued that man would be lazy or idle.

It should be realised that man must exercise his body, or make it work, in order that various organs and parts—muscle, brain, heart, continue to function efficiently.

Man is essentially a social being, not merely because he enjoys the companionship of his fellows, but out of sheer necessity. This social bond shows at times of great disasters. Without society there could be no man. The reason mankind has gained the control over nature that we know at present is due to his developing social organisation. The various problems throughout his evolution have been met by a changing society. Capitalist society throws up problems which are not soluble in its own terms. Those regarding work are principally: no work unless you can find an employer, alienation from the means of production and the product of labour, debasement of quality, trivialised craftsmanship, and specialisation which results in the worker being an extension of the machine. These are some of the conditions of work that Socialism will remove.

Socialism will be a democratic, classless society. All mankind will stand in the same relationship to the means of production. Production will be organised to meet the needs of society, and science will be used to remove work that the community finds distasteful. All labour will be useful. That is, it will be concerned with the production and distribution of goods and services. Commodity production with its requirement of numerous commercial workers, adding nothing useful to meet mankind’s needs, will be no more. Leisure will be idleness or recreation as the individual desires. There will not be any pressure to conform to any given pattern of work and recreation. Men who are working in their own interests do not have to be driven, coaxed, or cajoled. Work under Socialism will be inspired by the greatest of all incentives— the knowledge that the function required of workers will enable each and every human being to have “according to his needs”.

In Capitalist society life is compartmentalised into Infancy, Training, Work and Retirement. Under Socialism people will endeavour to work their bodies to maintain their maximum efficiency in order to gain the greatest enjoyment from life. When young much of the work process will be educational, but the learning process will not cease at any given age. All people will have the opportunity to further their knowledge, ability and interests whatever their age. There will be no such thing as compulsory retirement.

As people get older they will desire to play a greater and eventually a smaller part in society. This will be demonstrated by greater and later a smaller participation in the productive process.

Work will be a pleasurable activity of free men and women, taken up consciously by them and continued as long as the effort is rewarding. There will be no time wasting as today, for time wasting is a reflection of the fact that there is no satisfaction in the work being done. Under Socialism when work becomes distasteful the worker will seek activities more in line with his need and ability.

Production under Socialism will design and produce goods to meet the needs of man in the best way possible. When the products of labour are the best possible, when production is organised to meet the needs of mankind, when man can demonstrate his interest in constructive work, when the alienating conditions of work experienced under Capitalism are gone—then the social constructiveness of work will have removed the cause of much mental ill-health and work neurosis experienced under Capitalism.

Man will then be free to pursue recreational games and pastimes. The do-it-yourself leisure activities of today—man’s limited opportunity to express himself through work and take pride in his achievement—will be part of the production of goods and services that society will require. This means that man will bring the standards of craftsmanship to production, which can be contrasted with today’s cheap shoddy goods with built-in obsolescence designed to meet the requirements of the market.

The historian and his observations today can tell us much, with considerable detail, about the conditions of work under earlier societies and present day capitalism. We cannot be as specific with regard to work under Socialism, for the problem when looking into the future is that we do not know the scientific and technological tools, instruments and machines that will be available. The means of production will obviously strongly influence the method of organisation. Nevertheless knowing the social conditions it can be said that work will be necessary, that man will gain pleasure from creative work, that the free time he will enjoy will enable him to widen and deepen his interests—all in the knowledge that by co-operative efforts the welfare of all mankind will be furthered.

Man, a social being, will recognise that his first vital need is work.
Ken Knight

How food is poisoned for profit (1981)

From the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The EEC Council of Ministers decided at the end of September that the injection of hormones into animals for human consumption to accelerate their growth should be banned throughout the nine Common Market countries. A regulation to this effect has now been prepared.

This decision was sparked off by two events: a very successful boycott of veal launched by a consumers organisation in France and the discovery in Italy that a number of babies had developed premature sexual characteristics as a result of eating baby food made from meat containing injected hormones.

The injection of hormones into calves has in fact been illegal in France since 1976 and the boycott was called simply to get this law enforced. Like many such laws, it remained a dead letter, with farmers and chemists widely ignoring it. The discussion provoked by the boycott brought out some interesting “justifications” for not respecting the law, all of them illustrating that profits come before human welfare under capitalism, and that sometimes the capitalist state has to check its own economic system which might otherwise poison the lot of us in its search for profits.

Veal production is in a sense a by-product of mass dairy farming since to keep giving milk a cow has to regularly have a calf. Some of these are used to restock the dairy herd, but what to do with the rest? In France the dairy farmer generally sells his surplus calves when a few weeks old to another farmer who fattens them up for three or four months before sending them off to be slaughtered and sold as veal.

The horror story begins after the calves have passed from the dairy farmer to the livestock farmer. Only about 20 per cent of calves in France are fattened “naturally” in the sense that they are fed on their mother’s milk and allowed to roam free in the fields, absorbing naturally the hormones they need to grow. The other 80 per cent are raised under factory-farm conditions: crowded together in huge sheds, often never seeing the light of day let alone being allowed out, and fed on powdered milk. Here we can mention, but only in passing since it is not linked to the question of hormones, another widely-employed practice. Consumers, apparently, like their veal to be white-coloured and the way this is done is to feed the calves on powdered milk with a greatly reduced iron content; the result is that they become anaemic—and so their meat is white.

It normally takes three or four months for a calf to become fat enough to be sent to the slaughter-house. Clearly, if the required weight can be reached in a shorter time, the producer is going to make more profit—and it is precisely this faster fattening that the injection of hormones brings about. Hormones are organic substances which affect growth. Two sorts are used to fatten calves: so-called “natural” hormones, (hormones that exist in nature but which are nevertheless produced artificially by the pharmaceutical industry) and artificial hormones, which have been entirely created by the chemists and which are not to be found in nature.

If all scientists are agreed that artificial hormones can be harmful when consumed by humans —one of them, diethyl-stilboestrol (DES), banned but still used, has long been identified as a potential cause of cancer —they are not agreed about the effects of natural hormones. It is clear that even if so-called natural hormones, in a “natural” dose, cannot be harmful since they need to be absorbed even by “free range” calves, the doses injected into the factory-farmed calves are way above what would be absorbed naturally.

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
At one stage the French Minister of Agriculture floated the idea of amending the 1976 law so as to legalise the injection of natural hormones but, in view of the hostile response, quickly dropped the idea. And now, under the proposed Common Market regulation, all hormones, whether natural or artificial, are to be banned. In Britain, incidentally, certain hormones were allowed to be administered under licence; according to the press, they have not been used on veal, only on beef. So perhaps the Roast Beef of Old England hasn’t always been as traditional as claimed. Hormones have also been used in beef in France, but the Minister of Agriculture intervened to tone down an article in another consumer magazine which highlighted this. He evidently felt that, with pressure being brought to bear on him by irate calf-raisers threatened with ruin by the consumer boycott (consumption and prices of veal really did fall off dramatically), he could well do without a similar pressure from beef-producers.

Many of the veal producers were not after huge profits but only trying to ensure that they got a living income; it was the capitalist system which obliged them to resort to the practice. The farmers’ organisations, in fact, did not hesitate to explain that it was economic pressures that forced some (said the consumer organisations) livestock farmers to break the law. A spokesman for one organisation was quoted as saying, after complaining about competition from imported hormone-injected veal:
   the livestock farmers are forced to cheat since it is often the difference in weight arising from the administration of hormones that represents their margin of profit (Republicain Lorrain, 13 August 1980).
Another organisation explained that some farmers broke the law because “the low level of profit does not always allow the heavy investments to be amortised” (Ouest-France, 12 September 1980).

These claims were confirmed by a Working Party of scientists set up by the Ministry of Agriculture which concluded that, if cheating went on, this was because anabolisants generally, with or without hormones, “are useful to the profitability of stock-farms” (Republicain Lorrain, 19 September 1980). The same issue of this paper quoted “professional circles” for figures which showed that the use of anabolisants (what some weight-lifters and shot-putters use to put on weight) without hormones allowed a stock-farmer to increase his production by 5 per cent; of anabolisants with natural hormones to increase it by 5-10 per cent and with artificial hormones by 10-15 per cent. “In these circumstances”, the paper concluded, “it is logical that the stock-farmer who is in any case going to take the risk of cheating should choose the most profitable product”. Which also happens to be the most dangerous to human health.

Although many of the farmers involved did so just to get a living income, big profits were still to be made out of the use of hormones in veal production. The hormone's themselves— including DES (only its use, not its production, was illegal) —had to be produced industrially by a complicated chemical process and it was the big drug firms which were involved in this. They encouraged the practice, sending out their pushers to try to convince farmers to use their products and chemists and vets to prescribe and administer them.

The real lesson of this episode of Veau aux hormones is not that there should be stricter laws governing the quality of meat on sale, but that we live under an economic and social system which makes such laws necessary. The fall in consumption and prices was undoubtedly the key factor which got the French government to say that in future it would enforce the law banning hormones and to press for a similar ban at Common Market level. But, quite apart from the fact that it remains to be seen whether the French (and other) governments will in fact make available the number of inspectors and laboratories that will be needed to enforce the ban, the same sort of battle will have to be fought over and over again, with consumers organisations always on the defensive, reacting to some new way round the law which some capitalist firm has thought up. Already in fact it is being suggested that the drug companies, which have made millions out of the hormones in question, will now switch to manufacturing other anabolisant drugs which will have the same effect on the growth of calves. These, apparently, have not been pushed till now since hormones were cheaper. In a few years time then the fight will still be on for drug-free meat.

So-called “consumer protection” laws, in any event, are passed in the general interest of the capitalist class as a whole and not to protect that nebulous entity, the “consumer”. Most consumers of food are wage and salary earners and, if they are being poisoned by the activities of a section of the capitalist class, then it is the other sections who will in the end be harmed since the quality of the labour power which they consume, and for which they pay the worker a wage or salary, will be diminished. It is because a reasonably healthy workforce is in the interests of employers generally that consumer protection laws are passed. The consumer who is being protected is the consumer of labour power.

The very need for the capitalist class to have to pass such laws against their own excesses is in itself a condemnation of the capitalist system. For what sort of economic system is it that has to threaten to use the force of the state machine to try to ensure that one group does not poison the rest of society? If production was for use and not for sale, as it will be in socialism, on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, such a problem just could not arise. It is quite inconceivable that anybody would even think of adopting a practice which was known to be a risk to human beings. Production being carried on solely to satisfy human needs, nothing would be produced and no processes would be used that might in any way be a threat to human health and well-being.
Adam Buick

Political Notes: Norman's Defeat (1981)

The Political Notes Column from the February 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Norman’s defeat
Norman St. John Stevas, as might be expected about anyone with a name like that, is well known for his sense of humour. At least, much of what he says matches the soppy grin he perpetually carries about on his face.

Whatever he has. he probably needed all of it when he was abruptly sacked in Thatcher’s first reshuffle of her government. In fact the whole thing had its funny side because when she fired Stevas Thatcher sent him a lovely letter telling him what a splendid chap he is and what valuable work he has done in the government. If a management did that on the factory floor the Industrial Tribunals would be swamped with complaints about unfair dismissal.

However, Norman added to the hilarity by declaring himself a devotee of ". . . compassionate, caring, one-nation Conservatism” and promising to keep up a fight for this. One problem he will obviously have will be knowing just what he is fighting for, since there can’t be anyone who is confident about the meaning of the phrase. Stevas is in immediate danger of becoming lost in the forest of meaningless verbiage which is the political terminology of capitalism.

Whatever is meant by “one nation”, it clearly doesn't exist in a society which is founded on the privileged standing of a parasitic minority over that of the useful, working, producing majority. It is no more than a catch phrase intended to hide the realities of capitalism's opposites of riches and poverty and at that it is transparently bogus.

But connoisseurs of such deceits need not fear. Norman’s dismissal doesn’t have to harm his ambitions, especially if he becomes a leader of the growing Tory unease at Thatcher’s performance. We may even end up with him as another in the line of “one nation" Conservative Prime Ministers. And we will need a sense of humour to survive that.


Roy Jenkins
With the return from Europe of Roy Jenkins, like a messiah come back from the wilderness, or wherever messiahs come back from, the prospects for the formation of a new Centre Party in Britain begin to look firmer. Of course it will be a pretty big job starting up a new organisation aiming at the immediate capture of political power against the might of the Labour and Conservative parties. And if that doesn’t leave Jenkins with enough problems there is Lord George Brown promising that if a Centre Party is formed he will be one of the first to join.

A few Labour MPs are also lining up for a seat on what they hope will he a runaway bandwagon, even it it is a bit early to get in their bid for a job. Mike Thomas is one, declaring himself in the Co-operative News — although whether anyone actually reads that journal is another matter. Roy Mason and Tom Ellis are others who are threatening to recast the entire face of British politics and then of course there is the famous, if less predictable. Gang of Three. 'This dazzling array of talent is banking on popular disillusionment with Labour policies persuading workers that capitalism would be more tolerable if it were administered, not from the "left” or the “right", but from the “centre”.

Nobody has actually decided what these terms mean nor where, say, the "left” ends and the “centre” begins. The problem is that in essentials there is no difference between them other than perhaps an ephemeral emphasis on a particular ailment of capitalism or on a personality.

Experience tells us that “left wing” ministers run capitalism very much like “right wingers’’ and that, whatever label is stuck on a government when it takes office in practice it is very little different from others with different labels—and it often ends up with the opposite label to the one it began with. This has little or nothing to do with the personnel of a government: it is simply that the capitalist system can be run in only one way — against the interests of the majority of its people.

So if Jenkins does ever make Number Ten from the Centre, we shall hardly notice the difference. His journey from Brussels is not necessary.


Postman’s knock
As the new season of explosives by mail order gets under way, we might anyday find that the 1981 publicity slogan for the Post Office will be that “Someone, somewhere, wants a letter bomb from you”.

There was, let us say straight away, absolutely no substance in the scurrilous rumour that the recent example of such missives, addressed to Margaret Thatcher, was sent by the reshuffled Cabinet Wets. At the current rate of postal charges they would have needed a whip round to pay for it, which might have been difficult at their lower wages.

What on earth do these bombers think they are doing? Do they seriously believe that if they had killed or injured Thatcher it would have made the slightest difference to the way British capitalism operates? Do they think there would not have been someone ready to take her place, at the head of a Tory government? Do they delude themselves that it would even have damaged the Tory Party? Or done anything at all to convince the working class that they should stop giving their support to capitalism?

In reality such acts of political terrorism have the opposite effect. Firstly, as they arouse sympathy for the victims and for what they stand for; as the IRA know only too well, martyrdom is a seductive vote catcher. They encourage an official state reaction against the terrorists, which can damage working class political freedom—witness the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act, rushed through by "liberal” Home Secretary Roy Jenkins immediately after the Birmingham pub bombings.

Finally, terrorism obscures the essential issue that the policies of capitalist parties exist and operate only because the working class support the system. That support is a matter of ideas and those ideas must change before capitalism will end. There is no evidence that this change will happen under the pressure of violence, however it is delivered.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Running Commentary: Smashing the State (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Smashing the State
It would be suicidal to take on the power of the governmental machinery from the outside, like throwing a few stones at a rocket bomb from a distance. The state includes much more than just police and soldiers — a point very well demonstrated by the exposure of a secret Post Office circular in Time Out magazine (No. 562, January 1981). The document in question was first sent to Local Authorities in 1975. It gives details of the “Telephone Preference Scheme”, which says that in any “civil or military emergency”, only those in “categories one and two” could make telephone calls, while the rest of the population would be able only to receive calls and listen, not make calls or talk. Only ten per cent of people are in the special categories whose telephones would be able to make calls: national and local government offices, police, armed forces, MPs, judges and magistrates, newspapers, the CBI and other employers’ organisations, certain trade union offices and factories, banks and prisons.

If a growing socialist movement ignores the centres of power in present-day society we will be cut off from the vital channels of organisation. We openly contest elections on this basis. Our candidates are unimportant as individuals. We are mandating them to go and ensure, as a body, that the current powers of coercion are not used against us. There is no other way in which we can operate in organising democratically to establish a system of society which will itself be democratic. We have the power to end this travesty of democracy. The MPs elected by the workers recently voted 172 to 111 to reject a Freedom of Information Bill giving individuals access to personal files held on them by government agencies. That is just one example of what supporting the status quo means.


Reagan’s millionaires
The massive power of the American electorate has just sent Carter back to his peanuts in the South and brought in another representative of the profit system, Ronald Reagan. The cabinet Reagan has chosen are not just defenders of the existence of property for the few and poverty for the rest. They are also owners of vast properties themselves.

Ten out of the seventeen are multi-millionaires. CIA Director William Casey has S5.2 millions and the Attorney-General, William French Smith has S5.8 millions and an income of S850,000 a year. Secretary of State General Haig has made S2.1 millions out of the American working class during the past year alone and the unearned income of the Labour Secretary Raymond Donovan is about 1 million a year (Guardian 27/1/81).

American workers should remember this when the cabinet asks them to work harder, “pull their belts in” and, if necessary go and die in battle for “their” nation. The nation and the state are controlled by that cabinet on behalf of the owning, employing class in America.


Free press?
In order to sell 3.8 million copies of the Sun each day, Rupert Murdoch mounted a massive television advertising campaign, which cost thousands of pounds each second. The Sun is just one of many newspapers which Murdoch owns and controls, filling millions of workers each morning with prejudices which are protecting the power of their bosses. In Britain alone, he also has the News of the World and now, it seems, the Times empire.

At a time when we are constantly told that “the country” is going through hard times and that “we” must learn to cut down, Rupert Murdoch has enough private wealth to buy an entire newspaper network His papers build up high readerships not just by the bared flesh of Page Three, but also by fitting in with ideas and assumptions which are reinforced by other media and by social pressure and persuasion.

On any major issue the Express, the Mail, The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Sun, the Mirror and the Star can all be expected to give similar views. For example, they all say that it is necessary to have employers and workers, rich and poor, because of “human nature”. They never question the real cause of problems like war, racism, poverty; they will never take a realistic class view of society.

So whether it is Murdoch who controls The Times, or whether it is any other capitalist, such as “Tiny” Rowland (whose latest shopping list includes Dickens and Jones, Harrods, Barkers and D. H. Evans, when most people can’t even afford to buy items in those shops, let alone the shops themselves) we will read the same stories.


What are you worth?
The December 1980 issue of The Safety Representative contains an article, “How Much Safety Can We Afford?" which explains how commercial enterprises make decisions about environmental and safety measures. One method used, called “weighing in the balance”, involves a direct comparison of financial costs. “For example, we can compare the cost of preventing an accident with the costs of the damage and injury it will produce”.

This means having to put a price on human life, and the article recommends such books as The Valuation of Human Life by G. H. Mooney (MacMillan, 1977) and The Value of Life by M. W. Jones- Lee (Robertson, 1976). An alternative method, called “standard setting” involves choosing a particular degree of safety and then aiming to maintain that level.

We are not living in a democracy; enterprises are owned and controlled by small groups of shareholders. Companies compete, trying to cut costs and capture markets, in order to maximise shareholders’ profits. The outcome is this horrific pricing of human life, the cost accounting of humanity. If co-operation and production for free use replaced competition and production for profit, there would be no need to cut costs; the only standard of value would be the quality of life and the direct satisfaction of human needs.
Clifford Slapper