Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Voice From The Back: The Future Is Bleak (2012)

The Voice From The Back column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Future Is Bleak
One of the illusions beloved of supporters of capitalism is that although workers may suffer some social problems these are gradually lessening and the future will see them disappear. The following report seems to knock that notion on the head. “Struggling consumers spend the equivalent of one week a year worrying about money as personal debt soars, says a study. With families facing the toughest squeeze on living standards since the Twenties, it found the average person spends three hours and 15 minutes a week fretting over finances. The Which? Quarterly Consumer Report into how we are coping with the downturn says more are being forced to take on new forms of debt to make ends meet” (Daily Mail, 24 July).


Progressing Backwards
Politicians, supported by the mass media are always telling us that capitalism is the most efficient way to run modern society. Inside Europe as the economic crisis worsens that claim looks more and more insupportable. “Some 5.7 million Spaniards, equivalent to almost one in four, are now seeking work, according to official figures. The country’s unemployment rate rose to 24.6% during the April to June quarter, up from 24.4% during the previous quarter. That is the highest rate since the mid-1970s, when the right-wing dictator Francisco Franco died and the country reintroduced democracy” (BBC News, 27 July). Forty years of so-called progressive democratic capitalism and one in four is unemployed – some progress!


Homelessness At Home
We can read every day about the super-rich acquiring a new third or fourth house in some exotic part of the world at some ridiculous price, but less prominent in the media you can also read of less fortunate workers who are without a house of any sort. “The number of households declared in need of emergency accommodation in England rose by about 25% over the past three years, new figures suggest. SSentif, the data company, said some 50,290 families and individuals were classed as homeless in 2011/12, up from 40,020 in 2009/10. But, said the company, spending on tackling homelessness had fallen from £213.7m to £199.8m over that period” (BBC News, 31 July). The plight of the homeless is another glaring example of the class division that exists in such so-called modern, developed countries like Britain.


The Mad House                          
There are many reasons why we should abolish the capitalist system of society and introduce world socialism, but surely there is no greater reason than this. “An unparalleled number of severe food shortages has added 43 million to the number of people going hungry worldwide this year. And millions of children are now at risk of acute malnutrition, charities are warning. …… For the first time in recent history, humanitarian organisations have had to respond to three serious food crises – in West Africa, Yemen and East Africa – in the past 12 months, according to Oxfam. Almost a billion people are now hungry – one in seven of the global population – and the number of acutely malnourished children has risen for the first time this decade” (Independent, 5 August). Millions starve in a world capable of feeding everyone. Capitalism is a mad house.


Profits Before Humanity
Capitalism is a cruel, unfeeling society wherein profit is much more important than human compassion. “A private care home for severely disabled people put its own profits before basic humanity, a scathing inquiry into abuse has found. Regulators, police, social services and the NHS are all heavily criticised in an official report for failing to pick up warning signs about the treatment of patients at the Winterbourne View home in Gloucestershire. It was published after 11 members of staff at the home pleaded guilty to almost 40 charges of neglect and ill treatment of people with severe learning difficulties in their care” (Daily Telegraph, 7 August). The scandal only came to light after an undercover reporter for the BBC’s Panorama programme filmed abuse taking place after being tipped off by Terry Bryan, a former senior nurse. The footage showed frail and confused residents being forcibly pinned to the ground by groups of staff, beaten, soaked with water, trapped under chairs and having their hair pulled and eyes poked. Yes, capitalism is truly a ‘caring’ society!


Power to the 99 Percent (2012)

From the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement this month something to celebrate? With a bit of perspective, we can now look at its tangible achievements and limitations.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905).
The background to 2011 was one of weak class consciousness, let alone socialist consciousness. Inequality remained firmly off the political agenda. The message from the millionaire ruling class was “We’re all in this together”. Ed Milliband’s challenge to the austerity myth was merely that the cuts were too deep and too fast. Little surprise then that cuts to welfare were implemented relatively free of political impediments.

Then in Spain, protests calling for “Real Democracy Now!” and to “Take the Square” formed the inspiration for Adbusters magazine to call for similar protests in the United States.  It asked, “What is our one demand?”
  “In the weeks leading up to Sept. 17, the NYC General Assembly seemed to be veering away from the language of ‘demands’ in the first place, largely because government institutions are already so shot through with corporate money that making specific demands would be pointless until the movement grew stronger politically. Instead, to begin with, they opted to make their demand the occupation itself—and the direct democracy taking place there—which in turn may or may not come up with some specific demand. When you think about it, this act is actually a pretty powerful statement…” (Reproduced in Occupied Wall Street Journal 1).
This was the start of the Occupy Movement, with the core slogan, “We are the 99 percent”. Various organisations participated in starting it, although Occupy remained much broader than any of them.

The methods of Occupy were not totally without precedent even in the last few decades. Back in the 1990s, the Zapatistas had used horizontalism for decision-making. One slogan that was used, “Another World is Possible,” also recalled the comparable international impact of the protests against the G8 in Seattle. These protests inspired the Anti-Globalisation movement (subsequently renamed Alter-Globalisation) which petered out, although Indymedia and World Social Forum proved more sustainable.

Occupy is formed along non-hierarchical lines.  Its decisions are taken by consensus in general assembly and in smaller working groups. Its commitment to organising without hierarchies seems to have so far deterred vanguards from hijacking it, as happened in the anti-globalisation movement. Regular (mostly weekly) General Assembly meetings have been held in London since its inception and despite repeated evictions from the Stock Exchange, St Pauls, Finsbury Park and Hampstead Heath.

Despite protests from unions, Occupy Oakland was able to partially mobilise for a march of 40,000 people. Occupy London occupied an abandoned bank building and created the venue, Bank of Ideas. They were evicted from that, but they had also formed the Tent City University to organise more talks. Several significant publications have emerged from Occupy locals around the US and UK including propaganda sheets such as Occupied Wall Street Journal, D.C. Mic Check, Occupied Chicago Tribune, Boston Occupier and Occupied L. A. Times as well as much lengthier papers such as Occupied Times of London and Occupy! Gazette by n+1 (literary journal publishers).

The ideological support for austerity was challenged, the genie was out of the bottle and, worse still for the 1 percent, opinion polling showed favourable attitudes to the Occupy movement. The 1 percent establishment were forced to respond.

Co-option by the 1 percent?
In the US, the Democratic Party seem to be targeting Occupy for co-option, using initiatives such as a “99 percent declaration” , “99 percent Spring”, “Occupy Congress” and “Occupy the Dream”. Although Occupy, seeking political support from the electorate isn’t necessarily harmful, Glenn Greenwald comments:
  “they are going to try to convert OWS into a vote-producing arm for the Obama 2012 campaign, and that’s what ‘Occupy Congress’ is designed to achieve. I believed then and — having spent the last few weeks talking with many OWS protesters around the country — believe even more so now that these efforts will inevitably fail: those who have animated the Occupy movement are not motivated by partisan allegiance.” (“Here’s what attempted co-option of OWS looks like”, Salon.com)
The members of Bush Snr’s administration, which Colin Powell is alleged to have called “the crazies”, are the now powerful neoconservative strain which has chosen to attack Occupy. Dirtier muckraking smears of the 1 percent than those in the film, Occupy Unmasked, would be hard to find. The trailer seems to suggest that Occupy is hierarchical, astroturfed and nihilistic. However, just because some participants may have such ideas, does not mean they should be taken as representative of Occupy. Only those agreed by the general assembly can. Whether the controversial body called the “Spokes Council” in Occupy Wall Street makes their movement hierarchical remains to be seen.

Divisions within Occupy
The most controversial argument within Occupy in the US seems to have been between Chris Hedges and David Graeber:
  “The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. Black Bloc adherents detest those of us on the organized left and seek, quite consciously, to take away our tools of empowerment. They confuse acts of petty vandalism and a repellent cynicism with revolution. The real enemies, they argue, are not the corporate capitalists, but their collaborators among the unions, workers’ movements, radical intellectuals, environmental activists and populist movements such as the Zapatistas. Because Black Bloc anarchists do not believe in organization, indeed oppose all organized movements, they ensure their own powerlessness. They can only be obstructionist. And they are primarily obstructionist to those who resist.” (Chris Hedges, The Cancer in Occupy, 6 February 2012, Truthdig.com)
To which David Graeber replied:
 “I have on more than one occasion taken part in Blocs where property damage has occurred. (I have taken part in even more Blocs that did not engage in such tactics. It is a common fallacy that this is what Black Blocs are all about. It isn’t.) I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were the real core of the group that came up with the idea of occupying Zuccotti Park, the “99 percent” slogan, the General Assembly process, and, in fact, who collectively decided that we would adopt a strategy of Gandhian non-violence and eschew acts of property damage. Many of us had taken part in Black Blocs. We just didn’t feel that was an appropriate tactic for the situation we were in.” (David Graeber, Concerning the Violent Peace-Police, An Open Letter to Chris Hedges, 9 February 2012, n+1)
Like the World Socialist Movement, Occupy does not seek to impose its object on unwilling participants. It aims rather at facilitating the diversely ideological 99 percent to freely arrive at ideas. The above controversy demonstrated the need for a space to develop those sometimes conflicting ideas. This is where Tidal Magazine (OccupyTheory.org) comes in. In depth but plain-speaking and free from jargon, Tidal argue, “We believe we can’t have radical action without radical thought”.

Occupy is important since it is rare to arrive at an analysis of the class composition of society close to that of the World Socialist Movement but popularised independently. And it is anti-Leninist too.

For us, socialism is the best system for the interests of the 99 percent. For Occupy as well as for those who want socialism, the twin dangers are of treading the path of reformist demands (which would undermine the 99 percent core message), or the path of inevitably doomed insurrection, which was the fate of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Politics has come a long way since the era of the reforms demanded by the Chartists in the 19th century. The manifestos of Real Democracy Now and the Global Occupy Manifesto demonstrate that these have chosen the reformist path. If the iterative Initial Statement of Occupy London continues “veering away from the language of ‘demands’” they may be able to avoid this mistake.

China’s first modern capitalist premier Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said in 1972 it was too early to judge the significance of the French Revolution of 1789. Though the quote is thought to be misinterpreted, hopefully, this opinion rather than Santayana’s is more applicable to the green shoots of the Occupy Movement, still in its infancy.
DJW

Heavenly Gates (2012)

The Pathfinders Column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

It must be a great feeling for anyone with a social conscience to be so ridiculously rich that they can spend their entire time doing something to alleviate a major global problem and actually feel that they are achieving something lasting and significant. Talk about the buzz, it must be a high that those seedy Russian oligarchs can never experience no matter how many yachtfuls of champagne they swim in or campaigning journalists they have knocked off by their hit-men. Cash-with-conscience philanthropists with billion dollar bank accounts must feel like the messiahs of the hi-tech age, second only to the great saints but without the unpleasantness of a stake-burning  or a crucifixion to earn their place in the pantheon of the Blessed.

Bill Gates, through his charitable Foundation, is one such saint, who has poured billions into agricultural R & D, malaria, polio and a host of other third world problems and who is a leading light in the Giving Pledge, a club of super-philanthropists dedicated to giving up the lion’s share of their wealth to solve problems of poverty, starvation and preventable disease among the world’s poorest ‘bottom billion’. Just last month the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a Reinvent the Toilet fair at their Seattle campus, a successful competition to find a design of lavatory that operates without running water, electricity or a septic system, at a running cost of no more than 3p a day and which captures or recycles energy. The applications of such a non-water-based design in many of the world’s poorest and resource-starved countries are too obvious to need spelling out. Poor sanitation kills 1.5 million children a year, and causes 50 percent of hospital admissions across the developing world. Bill Gates has the Midas touch. Every social ill he turns his attention to instantly sprouts solutions. He can even turn poo into gold.

How could even the most jaded and cynical socialist find anything to criticise in the activities of such a man? Churlish in the extreme to whinge about the often ruthless methods by which St Bill got to be so rich in the first place. Here’s a man who cares, really cares about the world’s poor, and is so stupifyingly rich that he has no need to impress anyone by pretending fake concern. Ditto Warren Buffett, possibly the most class-conscious benefactor in the super-philanthropist club and famous for complaining that he pays less tax than his secretary. Ditto Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire owner of Facebook who is barely out of his teens but whose ability to wield an economic power fifty countries would go to war to possess is mitigated, mercifully, by an apparently decent character and youthful save-the-world idealism. Arguably the force behind the super-philanthropy of the Giving Pledge is the ghost of Andrew Carnegie, in whose essay The Gospel of Wealth are to be found the arguments most influential in the thinking of these plutocrats. Carnegie’s view was that of the enlightened plutocrat, the sort who knows he can’t take it with him, the sort who has ceased to yearn for loot and now yearns for legacy. Carnegie, it must be said, meant well, and indeed even implied at one point that a future society might be built along egalitarian lines which would render his conception of top-down charity redundant. Given such a mentor, how could anyone gainsay the efforts of the 81 members of the billionaire club of the Giving Pledge, apart from perhaps suggesting mildly that all their money combined still won’t go as far as they hope or achieve as much as they think?

To return to the poo competition, a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine submitted an entry which uses a black soldier fly larva to eat the organic waste and turn it into environmentally-friendly animal feed. This toilet is now being field tested. The winning design from Caltech is solar powered and generates hydrogen fuel and electricity. These and other designs are fantastically useful and there is no question that with implementation they will improve the lives of millions across the world. Bill and Melinda score another home run.

But there is a sense in which Bill’s public-spirited generosity has an insidious dimension. It’s the sense in which he functions as capitalism’s PR agent, always accentuating the positives, the successes, the achievements, the progress. Is it an achievement, for instance, to get 81 of the world’s billionaires to join the Giving Pledge? Undoubtedly, and the best of luck to them. But what are we to make of the other 1145 billionaires (at 2012 estimates) who have not signed up? Some are perhaps hesitating. Many will have simply turned their noses up at the chance to give a little back. Socialists are always pointing out that the enemy of humanity is a system, a set of abstract social agreements, not any real living individual. However that doesn’t alter the fact that many of the super-rich are evil, squalid little shits who, if there turned out to be a Hell, fully deserve to rot in it. Bill can’t very well admit this in public since he acts as unofficial ambassador for these manicured Mafiosi. He’s like Cliff Richard trying to front a death metal band. You only have to browse through the Forbes list (www.forbes.com/billionaires) and compare it to the Giving Pledge list (LINK) to see how the vast majority of these paper princelings tend to regard the pressing issues of world poverty and hunger – they couldn’t give a flying shite into a Bill Gates organic supertoilet.

But Bill’s PR work doesn’t simply consist of putting a nice face on a lot of nasty bastards. He also has ringing praise for the social system which put him where he is today: ‘Capitalism is a phenomenal system because it’s generated so much innovation.  Other systems don’t allow that to happen. There is no other system that’s improved humanity, whether on a hundred year scale or a ten year scale. The world is better off…’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16738888).  Compared to what, feudalism? That’s like saying that the NHS is better than witch-burning.  Compared to Soviet ‘communism’? That was nothing but state-run capitalism in disguise, like British Rail on a bad day but with show trials. What are these ‘other systems’ against which capitalism has performed so miraculously? Bill doesn’t say and of course Bill doesn’t know. It’s just a rhetorical device. The only reason capitalism looks like a winner is because capitalism is the only horse running, a sure-fire bet that Bill and his friends won their money on. The real talent, the one that will make capitalism as obsolete as the Hansom cab, the future system Carnegie suspected might be possible, remains locked in the stables while Bill’s earnest propaganda helps to keep it there.

What, to a socialist, is the real indictment of capitalism behind the Poo Competition in Seattle is the fact that any of these university teams could have come up with any of these designs without the Gates Dollar to spur them to heights of inventiveness, but they didn’t. Why didn’t they? Because scientists don’t care? No. Because science has to do what money says and, except for the rare occasion when someone like Gates comes along with a wad of it, money doesn’t care.  Bill Gates thinks that money solves problems, but these are problems all created by money in the first place. Capitalism creates an apocalypse and then picks its way across the corpses rescuing the odd orphan, trumpeting its own philanthropy as it goes. Bill Gates surely knows this. They all do.  Though it isn’t nice to speak ill of the dead well off, in this sense, Bill and his friends are as full of shit as his toilets.
Paddy Shannon

‘Antigone’ by Sophocles at the National Theatre (2012)

Theatre Review from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles was recently staged at the National Theatre in London, starring Christopher Eccleston as Creon and Jodie Whitaker as Antigone, the character Hegel described as “the heavenly Antigone, the most magnificent figure”. This production opens with a tableaux modelled on the photograph of President Obama and aides watching the live video feed of the killing of Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Antigone, the woman of personal courage confronting state oppression has been a source of inspiration for dramatists. For Brecht she was the symbol of popular resistance to the horrors of Nazism. For ‘The Living Theatre’ founder, Judith Malina, Antigone “speaks with an ancient voice that is present wherever there is a willingness to speak against conventional strictures and punitive laws and to invoke the boundless human potential”.

Athenian audiences in the Hellenic Enlightenment would have adopted a more nuanced approach to Antigone, one that was based on the society they were living in.  Marx and Engels identified Ancient Greece as a society based on slavery, where agriculture was still developing, the ‘polis‘ (city state) and private property had appeared, and a ruling class was based on land and slave ownership.

In 5th century BC Athens, a form of ‘democracy’ had developed with a franchise that extended only to male citizens (with no say for slaves and other non-citizens). Athens was run by Boards of Jurors (who were salaried, chosen by lottery, and subject to scrutiny and de-selection), and the Council of 500 (chosen by lottery and examination with restricted tenure). Neither were organs of representative government. The source of direct democracy was in the People’s Assembly where any citizen could vote and speak. The Assembly met 40 days a year, had a quorum of 6,000 and drafted all major legislation.

Antigone, as an individual set against the tyranny of the state in the person of Creon, was appreciated by Athenian audiences because only 70 years before there had been authoritarianism. The play’s major themes can be seen as divine/natural law against man-made/state law or private/family life versus public life/citizenship.

JH Bradley in Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy saw the dialectical conflicts in the ethical views represented by Antigone and Creon.  Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit sees sibling fidelity and the sister-brother relationship (“mutually self-affirming free individualities”) as the strongest possible relationship for a woman within circumscribed family life. In Athens women did not have the vote; they were legally dependent on men, and in the case of Antigone her male guardian is also Creon. Athenian audiences would appreciate the depth of her rebellion not only against the state but also against a man. Hegel identified gender politics, and that patriarchy creates “an enemy within its own gates”. Hegel adores Antigone and believes her to be nobler than Creon.

Sophocles does not have the gods save Antigone, and in Tiresias’s prophecy there is no praise for Antigone. Creon loses his wife, and his ward Antigone, but it is the loss of his son that is the patriarchal tragedy.  For Sophocles and Athenian audiences it is the hubris of Creon which causes this tragedy.
Steve Clayton

Greenland – A New Field for Capitalist Exploitation (2012)

The Material World Column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Observations from three satellites showed that between July 8 and July 12 of this year the proportion of the Greenland ice sheet with melting surface ice shot up from 40 percent to 97 percent. After making sure that these astonishing data were correct, scientists attributed the melt, which continued for about two weeks, to a ridge of warm air or “heat dome” that passed over Greenland for the seventh summer in a row.

Then on July 15 or 16 – no one noticed exactly when it happened – a chunk of ice 130 km2 (50 square miles) in area toppled off the Petermann glacier in Greenland’s far north-west into the Nares Strait. Less than two years had passed since August 2010, when the same glacier lost another chunk, twice as large in area.

For anyone concerned about conditions on our planet as a whole in the decades and centuries ahead, these events might be seen as yet more evidence of the worrying acceleration in the speed of global heating (atmospheric carbon dioxide has now, according to some measures, passed the 400 parts per million mark). In particular, they could herald a tens-of-metres’rise in sea level that would inundate the world’s lowlands if the Arctic and Antarctic ice melted away.

Yet it can hardly be denied that climatic warming is producing immediate benefits in Greenland itself, especially for farmers and fishermen. The country is turning once more into the “green land” that attracted Viking settlers during the Medieval Warm Period of the 9th to 13th century. The season for growing grass and grazing sheep is becoming longer. Dairy cattle have been reintroduced. Vegetables like broccoli, which never grew before at these latitudes, are now cultivated. Cod and halibut are migrating north into Greenland waters.

Greedy eyes
The big mining and hydrocarbon companies are moving into Greenland, buying up broad swathes of territory and preparing to exploit rich and newly accessible mineral resources. In the Kranefjeld area, for example, the Australian-based Greenland Minerals and Energy owns deposits estimated at 861 million tonnes of uranium, zinc and rare earth elements (REEs). Another Australian firm, Hudson Resources, is drilling for REEs at Sarfartoq. These developments seem likely to play a key role in breaking up China’s monopoly in the extraction of REEs, which are coveted for diverse high-tech applications (see Material World, May 2011).

Other companies have their greedy eyes on nickel, aluminium, precious stones –and, of course, oil and natural gas, which they have no intention of leaving in the ground for as trivial a purpose as averting environmental catastrophe.

On the basis of experience in many other parts of the world, there is ample reason to doubt whether on balance ordinary people in Greenland will derive much benefit from exploitation of the island’s mineral resources. Some of them will get jobs that will seem to them relatively well-paid, but they will pay a heavy price in pollution and ill health. Uranium mining poses special dangers. So does the toxic sludge generated by the extraction of REEs, as the people of Inner Mongolia have discovered to their cost.  

At present Canadian, American and Australian mining companies appear to be in the lead, but the business press assures us that European and Asian firms are raring to get a piece of the action. European firms might derive some advantage from Greenland’s continuing status as a colony of Denmark with ties to the EU. (Greenland now enjoys “autonomy” or home rule and has withdrawn from the EU but still receives substantial aid from the EU through a partnership agreement that expires at the end of 2013.)

Independence for Greenland?
The issue of political independence for Greenland must be considered in this context. Commentators argue that the tax revenues generated by mining will enable the Greenlandic government to manage without the subsidies it now receives from Denmark and the EU, making independence possible. But whose interests would independence serve?

It is plausible to suppose that the North American and Australian companies already involved in Greenland are encouraging (bribing?) the country’s politicians and officials to go in this direction. They know full well that greater independence from Denmark and the EU means greater dependence on them.

Political independence would eliminate any competitive advantage that the link with the EU might give their European rivals. It would also free them of any constraints that Danish or EU regulations might place on mining in the name of protecting the environment or the way of life of indigenous groups. Observers note that home rule has made it easier for companies to obtain licenses. Presumably, independence would make it easier still.
Stefan

Tory Teenagers (2012)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leave a Petri dish in Oxford or Cambridge and chances are it will spawn a few young Conservatives along with other bacteria. The universities there have always been infected with teenage Tories, and two of these irritating germs featured on Young, Bright and On the Right (BBC2). Cameras followed them both as they tried to gain influence in their respective Oxbridge University Conservative Associations – CUCA and OUCA.

Joe Cooke hangs portraits of Thatcher and Churchill on his bedroom wall, where other teenagers might have posters from Nuts magazine. Nineteen-year-old Chris Monk describes himself as “a wild firebrand of the right”. Alas, he’s too ‘wild’ to ingratiate himself among CUCA, with his flailing arms, gawky demeanour and strange obsession with cheese and port. The most striking thing about each of them is their voice. Chris speaks in a whiny gargle, like Boris Johnson with a helium balloon. Joe’s decided to dilute his Yorkshire accent to fit in better with his posh, plummy peers.

Both want to start playing among the infighting and intrigue they find in their Conservative Associations. In their minds, they’re practising for when they’re in Parliament. In reality, they’re behaving like they’re in a sixth-form drama production of Yes, Minister. The game turns more serious when Joe gets revenge on those who mocked his real accent. He goes to the papers with evidence that OUCA sang racist and anti-Semitic songs at their meetings. He says he’s now seen through their “warped reality”.

Young, Bright and On the Right reveals that both Joe and Chris have grown up feeling isolated, and this led them to seek acceptance in the Conservative Party, of all places. Why there, rather than anywhere normal people go? Perhaps feeling some resentment towards their peers has contributed to their joining an organisation famed for trampling on people. It’s as if Conservatism is a symptom of their teen angst. Thankfully, it’s a phase both Joe and Chris should grow out of. By the end of the programme, they’ve both abandoned their political aspirations. Hopefully, in years to come they’ll be suitably embarrassed about being young, bright and full of shite.
Mike Foster

Letters: Lifestyle socialism? (2012)

Letters to the Editors from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lifestyle socialism?

Dear Editors

I have just been re-reading the article entitled “Why Jesus was not a socialist” in the June issue of the Socialist Standard. I still don’t really understand it, and I’m left wondering how you define “a socialist”; which presumably is the description which SPGB members apply to themselves, today, as individuals living in capitalist societies. When members declare themselves as “socialist”, is this purely because of their intellectual conviction and knowledge; or is it because they have adopted distinctive attitudes and behaviour within our present societies – in relationships with other people and the environment? Do members confine their socialism to seeking to persuade others verbally to become socialists? To make an extreme case, could someone continue in everyday life to be a capitalist while having convinced the SPGB intellectually that he/she understands and accepts the case for socialism – and thereby be called a socialist?

I have supposed that socialism is basically “From each according to their ability; to each according to their need.” Should we each be trying now to live that way – however impracticable and futile that might seem to be; or may we feel free to join as much as we can in the ways of capitalism, hoping to get our own “snouts in the trough”, until world-wide socialism comes?

Andrew Durrant, 
Garvestone, Norwich


Reply:
We call ourselves “socialists”because we want to see socialism established, i.e., a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production by the whole community. So, yes, if you put it that way, it is basically because of our “intellectual conviction and knowledge”rather than because we “have adopted distinctive attitudes and behaviour within our present system.”

Obviously, the fact that our members want socialism will to a certain extent reflect itself in how they behave under capitalism, but this doesn‘t include not working for money. Given that we are living under capitalism where what you need has to be bought, it is not possible to live without trying to get money –and getting it. There’s no choice.

All those excluded from owning means of production, including socialists, are forced to work for money, even if we don’t have to accept that the pursuit of money is the most important thing in life. Most people, even if they are not socialists, don’t think this but unless you are prepared to lead a precarious existence on the margins of society you have to obtain money. And it is only above a certain level of income that people can choose to renounce getting as much as they could.

Can someone who is a capitalist be a socialist? Yes. Two examples would be Frederick Engels and William Morris. For them to have given up their wealth to live as workers would not have helped the cause of socialism. As it happened, both of them gave generously to the socialist movement. 
Editors.


Olympics?

Dear Editors

Isn’t the Olympic “Games” a bit of a misnomer?

In the midst of the festival of chauvinism dedicated to UK Capitalism plc, at least the BBC is honest enough to admit what it’s really all about in the article “Olympic success: How much does an Olympic gold medal cost?” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19144983).

So much for Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic Creed “Le plus important aux Jeux olympiques n’est pas de gagner mais de participer, car l’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe mais le combat; l’essentiel, ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’ĂȘtre bien battu.” [“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, because the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”]

It seems to have been replaced by the tenet “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Still, capitalism poisons everything, so why should sport be immune.

Martyn Dunmore, 
Brussels


Ken Smith

Dear Editors

Thank you for the obituary of Ken Smith in the August Standard. Ken was a very lively presence at Bristol Branch meetings in the 1980s. He was a wonderful example of someone who knew that it wasn’t enough to be against capitalism but also necessary to be in favour of socialism. He and his wife Mavis held a number of memorable socialist discussion weekends at their self-built home in May Hill in Gloucestershire. Ken was fond of saying that their annual income had never been lower and their quality of life had never been higher – brought about by non-market exchanges with likeminded people in the surrounding area. There was always lively discussion, plenty to think about and plenty to eat and drink. Ken was one of the most life-affirming characters I’ve ever met and he was a force for socialism and for good. Those of us whose lives were touched by him were very lucky to have known him.

Keith Graham. 
Bristol


Debt

David Graeber has emailed comments on our review of his book Debt in the August Socialist Standard. We will publish it, together with our reply, in the October issue.

Edvard Munch at the Tate Modern (2012)

Exhibition Review from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Edvard Munch’s art portrays alienation, angst and madness in bourgeois capitalist society at the beginning of the 20th century. Munch grew up in a world turned upside down by Darwin, Nietzsche, and Karl Marx. Norway witnessed the development of feminism, and the changing role of women is seen in plays by Ibsen. Munch portrays his ambivalence about this sexual revolution in works like ‘Ashes‘ which evokes a sense of sexual guilt, and ‘Madonna‘ which is a hybrid of Ophelia and Salome, although his ‘Sister Inger‘ portrays a strong, independent woman.

Munch lived in the bohemian milieu in Christiania which was infused with socialism, and opposed the complacency, hypocrisy and reactionary nature of bourgeois middle-class society. He was friends with Bakuninist anarchist writer Hans Jaeger. His ‘Evening on Karl Johan‘ shows an oppressive crowd of bourgeois middle-class people with uncommunicative faces constrained by their norms and values.

Munch’s most famous work ‘The Scream‘ can represent human alienation in bourgeois capitalist society. Marx identified that humans are alienated from their work, their fellow humanity, and from nature itself; in fact, the proletarian is ‘annihilated‘ which can be seen in the horror of the figure in ‘The Scream‘. ‘The Scream‘ can also represent a person experiencing synaesthesia – the union of the senses – a feature experienced by some artists, those in the stages of madness or under the influence of LSD.  Munch wrote that he had been “trembling with anxiety and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature,” which also has echoes of Kierkegaard’s Christian existentialism. Munch’s ‘The Sun‘ is also startling in its synaesthesia, and evokes William Blake’s visionary pictures. Psychological ‘heaven and hell’ were all too familiar to Munch. ‘The Scream‘ evokes the plight of the sane man in an insane society which Erich Fromm identified. He also pointed out that the solution lay in a sane socialist society.

‘Friedrich Nietzsche‘ (1906)
Shortly before his mental breakdown, Munch completed ‘Friedrich Nietzsche‘, a posthumous portrait of the philosopher whose ideas about existential authenticity and eternal recurrence can be elicited from a study of ‘The Scream‘.  Nietzsche posited the theory of eternal recurrence as “the greatest weight” which could be with ‘amor fati,’ the ultimate affirmation of life, and guarantee an existential authenticity or lead to a terrifying nihilism.

Nietzsche was admired by anarchist Emma Goldman who wrote of him as the champion of the self-creating individual advocating spiritual renewal, and she combined this with the anarchist communism of Kropotkin. Nietzsche himself loathed the state, capitalism, ‘herd morality’, and Christianity as all exhibiting a lack of the “nobility of spirit”. The alienated working class in bourgeois society has no self-esteem; it does not have a high estimate of itself, being in the grip of false consciousness. In Nietzschean terms, the working class “is the dwarf of himself… a god in ruins”, and what is needed is a “transvaluation of values”: a class consciousness to create a new man and woman in a socialist society.
Steve Clayton

Action Replay: Meanwhile . . . (2012)

Deid.
The Action Replay column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the world has been focusing on the Olympics and the European Football Championships, plenty of other sport-related events have been taking place:
  • International football transfers fell in the first half of 2012, their total financial value going down by a third. So perhaps even the super-rich owners are beginning to feel the pinch.
  • The head of the Professional Footballers’ Association called on players at Portsmouth to accept less in past (so far unpaid) and future wages to keep the club from going under.
  • In Glasgow, Rangers have been forced, in effect, to start again as a new club (or, in some views, an existing club but a new company) in the Third Division after owing massive amounts in tax. There have been claims that there is an ‘anti-Rangers agenda’ in many parts of Scottish football (Daily Record website, 8 July); presumably these are people wanting to get their own back at a leading club.
  • The National Football Museum (for England, that is) used to be at Deepdale, the historic stadium of Preston North End. But Preston is a small city, a long way from anywhere, and after financial muscle from a bigger set-up, the museum has now transferred to Urbis in Manchester, a building which had spectacularly failed in its original use as a ‘museum of the city’. Big-money transfers aren’t just of players.
  • The Brazilian congress passed a bill allowing the sale of beer during matches in the 2014 World Cup there (beer sales are otherwise illegal at football matches in Brazil).
  •  In English rugby there has been a spat between clubs in the Championship (the second tier) and the Rugby Football Union, with the clubs claiming the RFU owes them money. A number of clubs are already in financial difficulty.
  •  Trainers withdrew their horses from a hurdle race at Worcester, as a protest against inadequate prize  money, partly caused by bookmakers locating their online business offshore and so reducing the amount of betting levy paid to the racing industry.

In other words, sport, and business, as usual.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Fascism and Ignorance (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again, there is a demand that the Fascists in this country should be legally banned. This demand comes most strongly from what we can loosely call the Left Wing. A legal ban was their answer to the Fascists before the last war; they are, it seems, always wanting to ban something. It is no surprise that, as soon as the Fascists come in for some unnecessary publicity, the Left turn their attention momentarily from the bomb to the Blackshirts.

It is easy to see why the Left Wing, which mistakenly regards itself as consisting of democratic socialists, is so often eager to try to ban some other organisation’s ideas. They have always firmly embraced the idea of leadership, by which they mean leadership of the working class to some vaguely defined destination by some dubiously knowledgeable Left Wing politicians.

An essential of the leadership theory is the political ignorance of the unlucky people who are to be led. Leadership, in fact could not exist without blind and ignorant followers. The followers, reason the leaders, cannot be trusted to resist the temptations of race hate and totalitarianism. It is a waste of time to try to educate them. Like children who are kept away from a case of chicken-pox, the working class must be quarantined from the infection of fascist ideas.

Like any other favourite Left Wing theory, this one starts off on the wrong foot and never recovers from it. The working class do not need any more leaders to decide what ideas they may and may not come into contact with. Capitalism is full of leaders, pulling this way and that and all achieving nothing towards the solution of our problems. It is high time for the working class to wake up from their slumbers.

It is high time for them to get some knowledge of capitalism. They need to know how capitalism works. Why it breeds ugly and destructive ideas like Fascism. Why it can never solve its own problems. Why its leaders are powerless to staunch its course.

(From editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1962)

Reshuffle – Who? When? Why? (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

We do not need to be diverted but recently Vernon Bogdanor, Research Professor at King’s College, shared his thoughts on the matter of David Cameron looking for a way to revive his government’s sagging fortunes: “David Cameron is an admirer of Harold Macmillan. There is quite a lot of similarity in that both went to Eton and Oxford”. And the point of this: “Like Macmillan, Cameron’s lustre is fading. He too faces grave economic problems allied to failing support in the polls and is believed to be planning to revitalise his administration with a reshuffle”. And the eminent professor’s advice: “It is important that Cameron does not let the legacy of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ inhibit his own political calculations”. There are some key words in this passage: ‘grave economic problems;’ ‘failing support;’ ‘revitalise;’ ‘reshuffle;’ because reshuffling a government – throwing out some of its prominent members, shifting those that remain around between jobs and filling the resulting gaps with hungry cubs from the back benches – is well established political strategy, even though it has never produced an enduring remedy for any perceived problems.

Attlee
The Night of the Long Knives was the occasion in 1934 when the Nazis protected their recently won victory by wiping out a clutch of restless brutes in their paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung, including its leader Ernst Roehm. Bogdanor was warning Cameron against employing rather less bloody but nevertheless markedly ruthless methods familiar to political leaders in this country. An example is provided by Clement Attlee, the first post-war Prime Minister, who rode to power on a great wave of underestimation in his party. “And a little mouse will lead them” was how Hugh Dalton, Attlee’s future Chancellor of the Exchequer, had greeted his rise in 1935 to the Labour leadership. In fact, the little mouse in Number Ten was quick to sack Dalton when he unwisely leaked some minor detail of his 1947 Budget to a crafty reporter. “Perfect ass,” was how Attlee dismissed Dalton, “His trouble was that he liked to talk, and he always liked to have a secret to confide”. Little more was heard of Dalton and his ambitions to lead his party. Another of Attlee’s ministers (who resigned but was never sacked by him) described his style as ". . . the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match”. But that idyllic vision was not apparent to John Belcher, junior minister at the Board of Trade, who was caught out taking what were regarded as bribes (but which would hardly rate as such in the present state of politics) for fixing governmental favours. Belcher was found to have accepted a suit, a cigarette case, a holiday in Margate (yes, Margate) from a fraudster and undischarged bankrupt. Attlee sacked him on the spot and launched a searching enquiry into the matter.

Abrasive
The wife of another ambitious minnow was furious when her husband was called to Number Ten in expectation of a glamorous promotion only to be told to clear his desk, but that meanwhile as he had an engineering qualification he might have a look at the troublesome family vacuum cleaner.  Another hopeful, John Parker, was similarly disappointed but did not help his case by gasping, “But why, Prime Minister?” which drew the barb: “Afraid you’re not up to it”. Behind Attlee and his abrasive style were some unusually powerful government figures such as Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps and Herbert Morrison whose experience of running affairs during the war did not make them any more humane, or successful, in controlling the inherent aggressiveness of the system. Among their priorities was the conscription of those hopeful people, to forget the promises for the safer, freer world which was to be built from the terror and destruction of 1939-45 and go to fight for the interests of British capitalism in Korea, Kenya, Cyprus . . .

Macmillan
It was one such conflict – the disastrous invasion of Suez in 1956 – that effectively raised Harold Macmillan to the position of Prime Minister. This was the time when, we were told, we had “never had it so good” such that a Tory election win in 1959 brought about the reign of somebody known as Supermac. But then came the predictable decline as the economy entered a less easy spell, raising questions about Macmillan’s durability. In America, the election of the youthfully virile JFK made the Tories seem older and more frail. Then came the crucial blow, when the safe seat of Orpington in Kent was lost to the Liberal Party in a by-election. Nothing could be more calculated to stimulate subversive restlessness among the back benches and there were insistent calls for Supermac to stand down. Although Macmillan nourished the reputation of a Gentleman To His Fingertips (Eton, Balliol, Grenadier Guards), he decided to be so ungentlemanly as to pin the blame for the rampant chaos onto his ministers, in particular his long-standing friend and enduringly loyal and willing Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd. He plotted a reshuffle but this was hastened by a leak in the Daily Mail, so it was necessary to call Lloyd to Number Ten to tell him he was to be sacked (Macmillan preferred “replaced”). On the following day another six members of the Cabinet were fired, then nine junior ministers. Surprisingly the Tory Party rode out the expected storm and Macmillan, resigning through health problems, was allowed to influence the choice of his successor .

Douglas Home
This was the aristocratic Old Etonian land owner Alec Douglas Home who fulfilled all expectations  by being unable to make any headway against the day-to-day pressures of capitalist politics and lost the 1964 election to Harold Wilson, the ex-grammar schoolboy with the thick Yorkshire accent. It was an instructive, if unedifying, episode. So now, almost fifty years after Macmillan and his Long Knives and seventy years after Attlee and his ruthless cosh, can it be that our “progress” is so meagre that it must be measured by an eminent professor speculating about the application of some stale, infected poultice to the chronic ulcers of capitalist society and its politicians? Those who claim to instruct us seem to be unaware that Cameron and his like offer nothing different or more searching or hopeful than a harking back to their own dismal failures. This is, simply, not the best we humans can do and the urgency for us is to demand better for ourselves as a revolutionary class.
Ivan

Brief Reports (2012)

The Brief Reports Column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Researchers have discovered that temperatures in Antarctica 50 million years ago were warm enough for palm trees to grow. They also point out that temperatures in Greenland are now warm enough for palm trees to grow. A climatologist commented: ‘Travel companies are missing a trick – I predict Eskimo Sun Tours and Seal-Club 18-30 holidays.’ A local Inuit fisherman added: ‘Phew, what a scorcher. I’m down to my string vest. It’s Arctantastic!’

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The dust has finally settled and the crowds have gone home after the greatest competition of games in the modern era, with a raft of new world records set in jumping over obstacles, throwing things, batting things backwards and forwards, lots of rowing, and endless running round in circles. A spokesman for the G8 said last week: ‘If only we gave out medals it would be just like the Olympics. Otherwise it’s a lot of strenuous effort signifying nothing. Capitalism needs the G8 like a pentathlete needs a groin strain. We may as well make a game out of it.’

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Auditors have found that the Department of Work and Pensions has been paying a company to pass dead people as fit to work. French firm Atos was paid more than £112m in the last financial year to carry out about 738,000 face-to-face medical tests on people who later turned out to be deceased. 80 percent of these dead people were pronounced ‘fit and able to work’. A spokesperson for Atos said it worked very closely with the DWP on a “complex and challenging contract” to “fulfil all our contractual obligations”. He added ‘in any large enough sample there will be a statistically significant number of stiffs. Our staff are trained to spot benefit fraudsters, not signs of life.’ Four out of 10 appeals for live claimants are upheld at tribunals.

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Vladimir Putin has intervened to commute the sentences imposed on Pussy Riot activists, on condition their publicity agents come and work for him. A Kremlin aide stated earlier: ‘All that attention over one crap song in a church – who wouldn’t want PR like that?’ Pussy Riot are famous for focussing the media spotlight on a number of derelict cultural icons including Madonna, Sting, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono.

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In China this month, the sensational trial of Gu Kailai, wife of former Party boss Bo Xilai and alleged poisoner of British businessman Neil Heywood, has been plastered all over no headlines and no internet websites. The controversial trial, which has thrown the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy into serious internal disarray, has not caused a media frenzy in newspapers and editorials have not blazed with wrath over the ‘moral corruption’ at the heart of government. Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, China’s two Twitter equivalents, have been buzzing with no information whatsoever about the trial. Ms Gu, known as a Communist Party ‘princess’ in China, was unavailable for interview. Foreign journalists say they suspect ‘some censorship’ may be involved.

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US woman Diana Nyad is attempting a world record swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, a distance of 103 nautical miles. Nyad, who first attempted the swim in 1978, told reporters before she set off that this time she was very hopeful: ‘It helps a lot that I’m being followed stroke for stroke by 53,000 of my Cuban fans’.

An Overdose of Faith (2012)

The Halo Halo! Column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

“It’s difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system” complained Tony Blair comparing Britain with America. “You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter” (Daily Telegraph 23 May 2009). Blair hasn’t finished with us yet though. His attempts to prove whether or not he is a nutter are still to be completed.

Although the man who wanted to finish a speech while he was Prime Minister with “God bless Britain” was unable to bomb his way to world peace – he sent troops into battle in Iraq in 1998 and again in 2003, Kosovo in 1999, Sierra Leone in 2000, and Afghanistan in 2001 – he now hopes to solve our problems with ‘The Tony Blair Faith Foundation’. The purpose of this, apparently, is to promote “respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action” and to “show how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world”.

Although having a religious ‘faith’ means, surely, believing that yours is right, and the others are therefore wrong, Blair is under the impression that “a world without faith would be one on a path to tragedy and disaster”. Unfortunately ‘tragedy and disaster’ are pretty much what we have in this world, but he seems not to have noticed that.

Numerous Christians were slaughtered by religious terrorists in Nigeria during July and August and an attack on the Central Mosque at Okene left more people dead there. “The country is drifting fast into anarchy,” said Archbishop Nicholas Okoh. “All Christians need to turn to Islam”, said a Boko Haram spokesman, or “they would never know peace again”. (Christian Post, 16 July and 10 August). So much for inter-faith ‘respect and understanding’ there.

And ‘Education and multi-faith action’ doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for girls in Deh’Subz, Afghanistan, according to a CNN.com report on 2 August. A girl’s school there run by Razia Jan, an American citizen born in Afghanistan, faces the daily threat of hand-grenade, acid and poison attacks by the local opposition.

“They are scared that when these girls get an education, they will become aware of their rights as women and as a human being” said Razia Jan. It seems that some of the local men urgently need to be educated too.

So can we suggest anything that might help Tony in his spiritual quest? A quick search on Google came up with the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. This looked promising.

“We are a multi-faith group. As of mid-2011, we consist of one Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist. Thus, the OCRT staff lack agreement on almost all theological matters, such as belief in a supreme being, the nature of God, interpretation of the Bible and other holy texts, whether life after death exists, what form the afterlife may take, etc”.

OK, they may sound like a bunch of 60s hippies who sit around contemplating their navels and playing bongos all day, but at least they’re not killing each other. Maybe Tony and his Priests and Ayatollahs should join this group.

No, it wouldn’t work, would it? Oh well, back to the drawing board.
NW

A Genuinely Radical Movement (2012)

Editorial from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The history of capitalism is also, inevitably, the history of radical movements that have resisted the exploitation and conflict upon which the system rests.  Working people, men and women, have always felt the inequality and oppressiveness of capitalism’s class ownership and class power.  They experienced at first hand the lack of freedom of the propertyless labourer, forced to work in another’s man’s fields and factories, in his warehouses and offices, and they understood more-or- less clearly how their lives were being used up for the benefit of others.  From that experience and understanding they repeatedly challenged capitalism’s institutions of privilege and power.   They called for justice and for democratic accountability.  They cited scripture, natural law and the universal declaration of human rights in support of their cause. They fought and are still fighting for their dignity as human beings in the streets, on public platforms and on the internet, often summoning resources of great courage and determination. They have left behind them a record of frustration, indignation and anger.

Working class history records these individuals and movements: Gerrard Winstanley who in 1649 led his Diggers onto St Georges Hill in Surrey, seeking to turn the world into “a common treasury for all”;  the London crowds of the 1770s, roaring for, ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ and denouncing the monarchical government of George III; the Luddites of the early 1800s smashing machinery to protect their livelihoods, and thirty years later, the massed meetings of Chartists attentive to speakers like firebrand, Feargus O’Connor, and voicing their demand for parliamentary representation.  In the 20th century, innumerable radical movements have emerged:suffragists; liberationists; anti-war and anti-nuclear groups; environmentalists; and ‘anti-capitalists’ among them, and already in the new century, we hear, unmistakably, that same frustration, indignation and anger from Occupy as it searches for an adequate response to the banking crisis of 2008 and the current recession.

A few of these movements, like the Diggers, were truly radical and visionary. They attempted to create a new way for human beings to relate to each other, a way that was not based on property and exploitation.  The Diggers failed, because they were few, and the forks and hoes they used to cultivate St George’s Hill belonged to a technology that could not yet feed or free the world.  In later centuries, most radical movements, like the Chartists and much of Occupy, have searched for ways to make capitalism work on behalf of the working class.  They failed, or will fail, too, because social conflict and exploitation of workers is built into the body of capitalism itself – it’s part of the system’s DNA – and cannot be eliminated by modifying institutions or changing a few governments or laws.  But technology has moved on, and what was beyond the grasp of the 17th-century Diggers is well within ours.  Our message then to fellow members of the working class is to act together in a genuinely radical movement, not to prune back the system of exploitation, but to grub it up wholesale by its roots and turn the world’s resources into a common treasury for all.

News in Review: The Labour Party and the Queen's Navee (1964)

The News in Review column from the April 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home

The Labour Party and the Queen's Navee
Well, in the end Mr. Wilson was able to force the Prime Minister to withdraw his allegation that the Labour leader wanted to give the Royal Navy to the United Nations which presumably made somebody, somewhere, happy.

Mr. Wilson, we may assume, loves the Navy, which is natural enough because after all perhaps no part of the British armed forces has done so much to set wider still and wider bounds of the glorious British Empire on which, once, the sun never set.

Nor was it only in the House of Commons that the Labour Party were standing up for Jolly Jack Tar. The Tory government had hatched a wicked plot to abolish the name Admiralty and to substitute the name Navy Board which as everyone knows does not summon up the vision of a blue cocked hat half as well. The government put this plot into a Bill and they pushed it through the Commons but the House of Lords was a different matter.

The Tory peers woke up when they realised what the government was up to because they thought that this was mucking about with tradition (one of them spoke about “a religious intensity”) and that when Jolly Jack Tar’s head is stuffed full of a lot of nonsense about tradition he obeys his officers more readily and is keener to die for what he thinks is his country.

Labour peers were awake too. Lord Alexander said: “Admiralty . . .  is something a little more majestic, something which . . . has left a lasting world impression" and Earl Attlee, waspish as ever, hoisted his own battle signal: “I believe in preserving things with great traditions".

Thus encouraged, the original Tory objector divided the House and Labour and Tory peers steamed in irresistible convoy into the same lobby to defeat the government by eight votes. The torpedoed government agreed to the amendment and the Commons, chastened by the Upper House’s greater reverence for the traditions of British arms, relented too. We still, therefore, call it the Admiralty.

Any Jolly Jack Tar who in future may be blown up, or drowned, or otherwise killed, in the interests of the British ruling class can take consolation from the fact that he dies under the organisation of something called the Admiralty and not something with a non-traditional name like the Navy Board and that this is all thanks to the united efforts of Tory peers and of Labour peers who, although they call themselves Socialists, were ready to fire a broadside for the glorious, blood-soaked traditions of the Queen’s Navee.


Abroad

Primaries in the States
Presidential primary elections, which were introduced into the United States about the turn of the century, were designed to prevent the big party machines foisting their own candidates onto the American electorate. The method of the elections varies widely from state to state but in all of them the voters get a chance to say, in one way or another, who they would like to see standing for President.

In fact, the men who eventually fight it out are usually those who would probably have been nominated if the primary elections had never been held. Although the candidates are formally picked at the party conventions, the men who do the picking in the smoke-filled rooms necessarily take the popular will into account, whether or not this has been sampled in the primaries.

Thus although Kennedy won the Democratic nomination in 1960 after fighting some classical political campaigns in primaries, in which he convinced his party that he was a vote winner, Stevenson got the nomination in 1952 without entering a single primary.

The conventions choose the man they think most likely to win the election. This year, it is as certain as anything can be that the Democrats will make a formality of confirming President Johnson as their man. For the Republicans, however, the choice is more complicated.

Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who flexed his political muscles in the last election when he virtually compelled Nixon to modify his platform, is a candidate who has lost some popular support because of his recent divorce—as if that affects his ability to run a great capitalist country. Senator Goldwater, who has expressed ideas so out of tune with the contemporary needs of American capitalism that it is hard to believe that if he gets the nomination he will not modify them, was strongly fancied until the accession of Johnson rallied Democratic support in the South, where Goldwater was once reported to be making inroads.

Neither of these men, at the moment, seems likely to satisfy every Republican yearning for a candidate to take them on a glorious bandwagon to the White House next November. There are others waiting to take advantage of a possible deadlock; Governors Romney and Scranton, and plain Mr. Richard Nixon, who still sourly protests that he has had enough of electoral disappointment.

Whoever the two parties pick, it is sure that their running mates for the post of Vice-President will be a vote-catching compromise, in the same way that Johnson’s Southern origin and mature political skill was designed to offset Kennedy's youthful, Northern “liberalism.”

This is how the great American political parties, just like their counterparts over here, defer to the political ignorance of the working class voters—which is what they must do of they are to have a hope of winning. And what, in the end, comes out of it all?

On November 3rd, the American working class will go to the polls to decide who will run capitalism in their country over the next four years. The result will not appreciably alter the conditions of the millions who cast their vote. Like Peter Simple’s Marshal Bolster, we can confidently say that whoever gets the most votes will win. But, unlike Bolster, we can also confidently say that whoever this is, it will not matter a damn.


Politics

Translation of Sir Alec

Like Bottom, Sir Alec Douglas-Home is translated—and sometimes he could almost be wearing an ass’s head, to boot.

Before he became Prime Minister, Home's image was that of an amiable, unfussy, courteous aristocrat who took to politics only because of a desire to serve us of the lower orders by being one of our political, as well as one of our economic, masters.

For somebody who owns as much as Home does that must have been a pleasant pretension. But his promotion has changed all that. The courteous aristocrat is now trying to be the tricky, funny politician.

Home has grown famous for the facetious cracks with which he evades Opposition questions in the House of Commons. (The Daily Telegraph reports these cracks as priceless gems of humour but surely even the Tories will grow tired of them?) And he has recently earned more infamy by his remarkably ill-judged attack on Harold Wilson over the latter’s alleged desire to give away the Royal Navy and by his statement that when he was ready to debate Wilson on television he would “send for” the Labour leader.

This last crack, with its implication that politicians tell the TV men what to put on, and when, upset some sections of the press and within a couple of days of each other both The Guardian and the Observer had a go at Home, warning him that in his present vein he is more likely to lose votes than to win them.

Poor Sir Alec is only doing his best and perhaps he is pleasing the Tory faithful. Doubtless, if he thought for a moment that he was losing votes he would change his line overnight.

For like all capitalist politicians the Prime Minister must know that truth and consistency are not particularly important in the great vote hunt. It may be ironical that the leader of the Gentleman’s Party, and the recent holder of an ancient title of chivalry, should descend to such methods but that, after all, is all part of the dirty game of politics.

And anyway it usually goes over with the voters. Bottom in his ass’s head was irresistible to Titania after she had been dealt a drug. At times it seems that the working class, infatuated as they are with their leaders, must themselves be under the influence of a love potion.


Business

Threat from Japan
Part of the official propaganda campaign during the last war was aimed at convincing us that the Japanese were a lot of little yellow monkeys who committed some fearful atrocities.

There was, of course, a lot of truth in the atrocity stories. But what the Allied propaganda did not publicise was the fact that the war was not being fought to stop the Japanese maltreating their prisoners.

Japan is one of the world’s great trading nations, with an economy which must export to live. In this, she is similar to Great Britain; both countries in the past were driven by their economic needs into an imperialist policy. Both, too, in their adventures to find and to hold on to foreign markets, built up powerful armed forces.

When the last war started, Japan was a monster competitor in the Far East, such as Commodore Perry could not have dreamt he was unleashing when in 1853 he first tried to open the country as a market for American exports. It was to tame the monster which Perry had all unknowingly awoken that the last war in the Far East was fought.

Since 1945 the Japanese capitalists have been progressively recovering from their defeat; although in this nuclear age they are no longer a great military power, their trade offensives are as forceful as ever. Japan is the world's greatest shipbuilding nation. Its cheap cameras, transistor radios, motor cycles and so on flood into the markets of the world. It has beaten its rivals out of one market after another in the Far East. It dominates the economy of South East Asia, exports heavily to North America ($1,750 million worth in 1963) and Europe ($880 million), and is busily expanding into Africa ($460 million).

Japan is an important trading partner to South Africa, with which she is currently running a trade deficit (1963 exports $80 million, imports $110 million). This has had an amusing political side- effect; rather than offend the Japanese trade representatives by subjecting them to the humiliations of racial discrimination, the South African government has decided that the Japanese are actually Europeans—which shows how flexible racial theories can become under the pressure of economic interests.

What all this adds up to is that Japan, despite her military defeat, is still a powerful competitor in world capitalism. At the moment the situation seems to be under control. But who, remembering Manchuria, and China, and Pearl Harbour and finally Hiroshima, would dare to say that it will remain so?