The Passing Show

We hear a lot about the housing shortage. Officially, housing is considered to be adequate when there is one room per person in a household; though anyone who has to live in a household where six persons are crammed into a six-roomed house may be excused for supposing that the official who arrived at this conclusion has never had a similar experience. But the last census shows that more than a quarter of the total population lives in households where not even this ratio is attained—where there is not even one room per each member of the household.

This is, however, only one side of the picture. There is another, and a happier, side. For like food-rationing, the housing shortage is a problem that affects one class in the country only—the poorer class, the working class. Just as the rich have never needed ration books—the restaurants and hotels have always been able to provide them with all the food they wanted without rationing—so have they never needed to put their names at the bottom of the housing lists. For the question the social system asks of the house-hunter is not “How badly off are you for accommodation? ” but “How much capital have you got?” If, like most people, you have none, you can join the housing queue; but if you have five or six thousand at your command the estate agents will fall over themselves offering you desirable residences with all mod con. Take one issue of The Times—for example, that of August 5th. Here there are a hundred houses and more offered for sale; there are none below £1,000, and only one or two below £3,000, the prices of most being from £5,000 up to £35,000. But supposing there was a worker so frugal that out of his wage of £6 or £7 a week he managed to put away £1 each and every week, even when he was out of work through illness or “redundancy”; how long would it take him to save up £5,000 for one of these desirable properties? If he began saving now, he would have his five thousand in the year 2052. This scheme, though, like all schemes for the amelioration of the working class under Capitalism, has its drawback: the snag in this case is that the worker would almost certainly be dead in 2052.

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Personal Column
While you are looking in The Times for your house, turn to the Personal Column. Here you will find houses for sale at £10,000, houses or flats to rent at £20 a week (e.g., 31.7.52). Here you will come across a number of other items which might lead you to suspect that the Labour Party’s claim to have taxed the rich out of existence is exaggerated. On July 29th there was an advert, inserted by someone who had £100,000 to spare to buy a drapery business; on July 23rd there was offered for sale a book-publishing business for the same sum. Then on July 31st a gentleman going to Scotland for a month wanted a “chauffeur-loader-handyman”; in other words, besides being able to go on holiday for a month himself, he could afford to take a servant along. And students of the rate of interest after six years’ Labour Government will be interested in the following item, which appeared on August 2nd:

“Torquay.—Sound investment offered; 12 new proprietary 4-berth caravans £4,250; net £800 yearly income guaranteed.—Write box . . .”

The happy purchaser will be able to rake in £16 a week net, this being a return of nearly 19 per cent., at the expense of the twelve unfortunate families who have to pay what must be high rents for caravans.

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As the war continues in Korea, the headlines still say “No progress in truce talks.” What discussions still go on are now largely taken up with arguments about how to translate “United Nations” into Korean. But each side claims that deadlock has been reached because of the intransigeant attitude of the other side in the matter of the return of the Korean and Chinese prisoners held by the so-called “United Nations” forces. It is certainly difficult for the impartial observer to decide whether these prisoners would be worse off in North Korea under the Stalinists or in South Korea under Syngman Rhee. One thing is clear: whichever part of the country finally gets them, their social position as propertyless workers will be exactly the same. North of the firing line or south of it, the social system is capitalist, and will continue to be so for as long as the present sets of rulers hold power.

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The Koreans
Each world group maintains that its forces went into Korea to defend the Koreans against aggression and to uphold their liberties. But while each side poured men and arms into the country, both nominally in defence of the inhabitants, what actually happened to the Koreans? At the meeting in Toronto of the International Red Cross, it was stated that ten million people had been driven from their homes, and another million were permanently injured or had disappeared (Times, 4.8.52). And this in a country the total population of which is only nineteen million!

Woe betide any people when the power-blocs of the world decide that its liberties and independence are in danger.

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At the end of July the engineering employers turned down the claim of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions for a £2 a week increase in pay. Two of the reasons they gave are worthy of note. The rise in the cost of living, they said, had been partly offset by higher family allowances. This reinforces the Socialist case that family allowances are in effect merely one of the devices of the employers to keep down wages. In fact, a given sum paid as family allowances is worth more to the employers than the same sum paid in the wage-packet. For wages are paid at the same level irrespective of whether the worker is married or has any children to keep. But family allowances go solely to the man who has a sizeable family to support, and thus allay discontent among that very section of the working class who would be the hardest hit and therefore the first to complain when the cost of living rose. In this way family allowances act to keep the general wage level down.

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Germany and Japan
And, secondly, the engineering employers pointed out that the industry was faced with a revival of competition from Germany and Japan. This competition, which is no doubt a very real menace to British capitalists, leads the worker only to speculate on the uselessness of war. For as soon as Germany and Japan were defeated, the ruling classes of Britain and the United States decided that the real danger to their overseas markets and sources of raw material now came from Russia and her allies. After the first world war it was fifteen years before Germany rearmed. This time it has taken only seven years, and Germany is rearming at the instance of her late enemies. Rearmament is impossible without flourishing heavy industries. So the last war, while it halted Germany’s aggrandisement for a time, and while it provided British industry with orders for a time, was only a temporary palliative. In order to prepare for a third world war, British Capitalism has now to watch the resuscitation of its German rival.

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What of the workers, who were exhorted to fight Germany in the last war under the pretence that the real fight was not so much against the German state as against the Nazis and German militarism? If this tale ever carried credence, it should do so no longer, as more and more reports come in of the Nazis and militarists, once supposed to be defeated, still in the seats of office in Germany. The Krupp family were prominent among the industrialist supporters of Hitler; on August 4th it wasreported that the Villa Hugel, the Krupp family home, was being derequisitioned, and that Herr Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was building a new house in the grounds—this while many of the British houses destroyed by Krupp armaments are still unreplaced. On August 8th an article in The Times, remarking on the difficulties encountered by the Israeli-German conference on reparations, contained the following comment:

“Some of the Jewish delegates had themselves suffered grievously at the hands of the Nazis and before sitting down to the same table with the Germans had to submit to the difficult process of sinking their own feelings—a process which was not made easier by the fact that some of the German delegates themselves had been members of the Nazi Party or had worked in the German Foreign Office under Ribbentrop.”

In the same paper, on the same day, a letter appeared from Randolph Churchill attacking a suggestion that “no former German officer should be allowed to serve in the German contingent of the European Defence Community,” on the unusual ground that it was un-Christian. Well, perhaps; but if this proposal is un-Christian, it doesn’t say much for Christianity. And finally, General Sir John Harding, one of the NATO European commanders, and next year’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff, has said, “I think that German military thinking will contribute immensely to Western defence.” Obviously, if Randolph Churchill and General Harding have anything to do with it, the old gang of German militarists will be fully employed in the expected struggle against the Russians.

So anyone who thought we were fighting against “German militarism” in the last war will have to think again.

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From The Times, 31.7.52:

“Russian armed guards are to-day reported to be patrolling the power station at Amstetten, Lower Austria, to prevent its being taken over by the Newag—the Lower Austria Electrical Supply Corporation — in accordance with the federal nationalisation law.”

But if nationalisation is supposed to be to the advantage of the workers, why are the Stalinists denying its benefits to the Austrian workers?


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