Sunday, November 19, 2017

Media Politics (1983)

From the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not an exaggeration to say that the media lives in a world of its own where reality is only reluctantly recognised, and only then when it has been distorted. This is especially true of its political content, such as there is, where its relationship with the realities of working class life is tenuous indeed. To achieve this miracle of deception, with the help of its great allies of family and school environments, the media employs the use of the intellectual straight jacket of “left, right and centre” political concepts. All political events and ideas are squeezed into these pigeonholes, where they fight for space with lesser political cliches. This cannot be explained only in terms of being capitalist propaganda since even the people actually responsible for the events and ideas also share this rigid dogma of left and right. Why is this?

To find the answer, let us first see if there is any relevance in this “media ideology”. They give us as examples of extreme left-wing and right-wing political regimes the countries of Poland and Chile. But are the lives of working people in these countries so radically different? Wage slavery, violent state discipline, poverty, industrial conflict, are common to both and, next to these shared realities, any differences so beloved by the media are indeed inconsequential. Then there are, they tell us, the “centre” or moderate countries such as England, Sweden, Australia and even the United States. But do these great democracies allow their working class to escape the economic and social realities of the so-called extremist countries? The “free” trade unions in these countries are emasculated when they enter into “economic arrangements" (wage freezes) with the state for “the good of the nation", as would state controlled unions.

All this media talk completely misses the real issues involved in an explanation of the world’s agony. It is the world system we call capitalism which dictates policy to all governments, left or right. Politics only become relevant to this reality when it is explained in terms of the class conflict which it engenders. There is no ideological difference between state or private ownership of the means of production; in both cases the workers are excluded from ownership.

So why does almost everyone abide by the media rules in political discussions? This is a testament to the power of television, radio and newspapers, but it goes much deeper than this. Most journalists seem actually to believe what they write. On his television chat show, after hearing Arthur Scargill’s confused criticism of the media by reference to its private ownership, Michael Parkinson declared that during all his journalistic career he had never experienced editorial censorship. This, of course, says everything about Parkinson and many like him. but nothing about the media since he is quite incapable of writing anything damaging to the owners.

A clue to the reason for this tenacious intellectual prejudice in journalists might be found in their educational background. Journalism, like politics, history and economics, is considered a trade which must be learnt academically from so-called experts in the profession. Those who go through this training quite often consider themselves qualified to comment on politics with the same authority. What they have in fact learnt is capitalist ideology with its attendant elitist attitudes which, as we have seen, are irrelevant to the real world. This may cause considerable confusion in new journalists when confronting the real world but they are reluctant to give up their newly acquired authority and may sink into cynicism rather than injure their ego by accepting their ignorance. This attitude applies to many professionals in all fields — politicians, civil servants, trade unionists, economists, historians and so on. Why their intellect becomes so rigid and unable to facilitate new ideas is a question which must be asked of humanity as a whole. That it has more than a little to do with the psychological effects of capitalist “education” and family life is undeniable.
Andrew Westley

Fair game? (1983)

From the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current football season got off to its traditional start with rampaging "fans” whose activities attracted almost as much space in the press as the actual events on the field. The Observer (28 August 1983) reported one early clash: "The Birmingham fans were staking an early claim for the annual first-day-mindlessness-over- matter award”.

The beginnings were rather different. Football has developed from an informal, local, mass team game in feudal times to a nationally organised sport, with a sophisticated bureaucracy and a financial structure of its own. with armies of officials, players and spectators. In its organised form the game emerged as an acceptable type of violence. From being considered disorderly, even subversive, it came to be thought of as encouraging manliness and gentlemanly virtues. The game's purpose became the formation of character — preparation for the game of life. Many clergymen, influenced by their own public school education, introduced football to the young men in their parishes. They hoped that such a team game would influence working people into becoming “decent”, law-abiding citizens — a satisfactory result for the master class. Along with better physical health, footballers would develop the vagaries of character necessary to the protestant work ethic.

This season could well be make or break for many league clubs. Wage bills have been reduced by drastically cutting playing staffs, forcing many footballers onto the dole and bringing home to them that their type of work is not as glamorous as it might once, in the days when they dreamed of being a First Division hero, have seemed. The struggle for survival is worsened by a conflict between the Football Association, the administration of the game which still clings to the ideals of amateurism, and the owners of the football clubs who have rather different priorities. The FA have always been reluctant to allow club directors to be paid a wage, or to allow players to wear advertising matter on their shirts. The owners argue that sponsorship is part of the more "businesslike" approach the game needs if it is to survive.

Since the sixties both Labour and Conservative governments have encouraged firms to put their money (and, of course, their advertised names) into football and this growth in commercial sponsorship is the latest challenge to amateur attitudes; the Football League has now become the Canon League. Honest and sporting values have to be sacrificed by team managers and players for the sake of commercial values. Directors demand not only prestigious clubs but also prosperous ones. This puts the managers in a difficult spot. They know that to make the paying spectators come through the turnstiles their sides must play exciting, which means attacking, football but they also know that this policy is likely to concede goals. Every manager knows about job insecurity, as a succession of them are thrown out by directors who, like the supporters, are interested first in success.

Unscrupulous methods are used by managers conscious of the axe which hangs over them and which will fall if they fail to please the board. On the field defenders, aware that they will be dropped if they are responsible for too many goals against their team, use cynical fouls on opposing strikers. Players are transferred on a market as managers try desperately to reconcile fielding a winning side with the confines of a limited budget. Spectators join in thinking that they are watching "their" team and that their interests arc bound up with it winning. They jeer and harass opposing players who, if they happen to be black, are followed with loud imitations of ape noises.

Why do such large numbers of workers take so passionate an interest in something which has no real effect on their lives? Football is a fantastic escape from the reality of exploitation; it gives spectators a sense of order and continuity which they cannot find in their workplace. If the team is doing well, a supporter may feel that capitalism is not so bad after all; whatever the pressures during the working week there is always Saturday to look forward to. In his book The Sociology of Sport Harry Edwards claims that watching sport serves to: "Reaffirm the established values and beliefs, defining acceptable means and solutions to central problems in the secular realm of everyday societal life".

This squares with the concept of football as a quasi-religion. The game not only provides hooligans with an outlet for their pent-up feelings; it also gives other followers a sense of identity. After willingly handing over the fruits of their labour to the capitalist class during the week, or being a nobody on the dole, the football spectators, like churchgoers, can have a sense of belonging somewhere. They are not simply one of 25,000 people but a City or a West Ham fan. To label the hooligans as "not real fans", who "give the game a bad name", is to misunderstand; if football is in the place of a religion of modern capitalism then they are its priesthood.

In a profit-dominated society the appreciation of sporting skills is overridden by the desire for the dominance of one side, often at whatever cost is necessary, over the other. After their weekly dose of exploitation workers trek along to their holy shrines to give homage to the teams, hoping they will put their opponents to the sword without mercy. Strong words are spouted about violence on the terraces and about unruly youth, with calls for greater punishment but anti-social behaviour has its roots in the basis of capitalism. Sports goods firms cash in on the market with their pennants and scarves which create artificial bonds between the fans and their chosen team. The football priests robe themselves in the colours of their denomination and, if their side wins, can go back to their exploitation with an easier mind.

And that, for capitalism, is justification enough. For this is a social system which weighs everything, including such concepts as sporting behaviour, in the balance sheet and leaves the fans to walk on, walk on, with only hope in their hearts.
Gareth Thomas

The China trade (1983)

From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism, according to the Communist Manifesto, batters down all Chinese walls. This is illustrated nowhere more clearly than by developments in the Chinese economy over the last few years, especially since 1979 — events more far-reaching in their implications than the holding of China’s first-ever fashion show in Peking, or the establishing there of a branch of Maxim's, the fiendishly-expensive Paris restaurant. The imperative need for modernisation of industry and “export-led growth" has caused China to be integrated far more fully into the global capitalist economy than ever before. Those aspects of Chinese society which once appealed so much to Western Maoists have disappeared, and the official propaganda now employs blatantly capitalist criteria and phraseology. Any pretence of an economy based on considerations other than profit has been dropped.

Since 1979, over five billion US dollars have been invested in China by overseas firms, and an even larger sum has been received in loans from governments and international banking organisations. A Joint Venture Law promulgated in July 1979 permitted the setting-up of joint Chinese/overseas-owned companies, with China not even insisting on a controlling interest. Over a hundred such joint ventures have now been established. In May this year, the tax payable by them was cut, and they were exempted from import duties on certain items. The overseas firms that invest are of course allowed to keep the profits they make — profits which can only come from the exploitation of Chinese workers. Regulations concerning overseas companies in joint ventures refer blithely to their “profit and other legitimate income".

The growing volume of overseas investment has necessitated involvement in various areas of international law, such as deciding on the tax and insurance position of the investing companies. Seminars on these matters have been held in Peking, with international experts instructing the Chinese rulers in the ways of the capitalist world. Glossy books and pamphlets have been published, detailing China’s attractions to overseas companies (such as low taxes and the absence of labour disputes). In June 1982. a United Nations sponsored China Investment Promotion Meeting was held in Guangzhou, attended by five hundred overseas businessmen and bankers. Documents of interest to invest in sixty-nine projects were signed there. Any developing country wishing to win investments has to do this kind of thing, and China is no exception.

Moreover, four Special Economic Zones have been set up, intended to offer even more goodies to overseas capitalist firms. The extra attractions include lower rents and even lower taxes. The largest Special Economic Zone is at Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong. One company here has announced — for the first time in China since 1949 — the sale of shares, aimed mainly at individual investors in Hong Kong (Guardian, 6 July 1983). The dividends these shareholders will receive will, once again, come from the unpaid labour of the Chinese working class. Even outside the Special Economic Zones, local governments fall over themselves to offer incentives to investors. On Hainan Island in the extreme south of China, the Chinese partner in joint ventures takes lower profits than in a Special Economic Zone (the overseas firm gets more) and — astonishingly — workers are paid lower wages (Beijing Review, January 1982).

The chief exports relied on to finance the modernisation are coal and oil. China has vast coal reserves, but they arc mainly far from the most industrialised areas and from seaports. So priority is being given to new railway lines linking coal-producing areas to the ports. As for oil-producing. China has to rely on joint ventures for the expertise and investment needed to carry out exploration in a number of potentially rich offshore areas.

Another method China is adopting to attract foreign exchange is to expand its tourist trade. New skyscraper luxury hotels — many of them joint ventures — are being built, dwarfing in both size and conception the homes of ordinary Chinese workers. The largest hotel of all, in Nanjing, is complete with swimming pool and rooftop helicopter pad. Even in less opulent surroundings, one night in a hotel can cost almost as much as an average worker’s monthly wage.

As far as China's internal economy is concerned, one change has been an end to the “big pot" system, whereby state-owned industrial enterprises turned over all their profits to the state, which then provided finance for individual enterprises from this communal fund. Nowadays, factories simply pay a proportion of their profits to the state in taxes and keep the rest of their profit to dispose of as the factory managers decide. This is claimed to have increased both factory profits and the state’s income, on the grounds that more efficient and profitable factories now benefit from higher profits, whereas before they did not. The point is not whether this is a “better" system than previously, just that it makes it quite clear that the Chinese economy, like capitalism everywhere, is based on production for profit.

Corresponding to this reduced role of the state in allocating financial resources has been an increased role of the banking system. Production is now financed more and more by bank loans, and bank managers are encouraged to use strictly capitalist standards in deciding whether or not to grant a loan; a loan which is likely to be unprofitable will be refused. Interest rates to private depositors have been raised, partly to ensure that the compensation paid to former private capitalists is placed with the banks and so is available for lending. In 1982, about a million pounds worth of treasury bonds were issued, paying a juicy eight per cent interest to individual bondholders. The capitalist nature of the Chinese economy should be plain for all to see.

The agricultural sector has also seen comparable developments, with far more emphasis being given to commune-members cultivating private plots of land and selling the produce on the open market rather than through the state distribution mechanisms. This was just the kind of activity which had been condemned for years as evidence of "capitalist tendencies”. Market forces are now more important than before in setting price levels in both agriculture and industry. Of course this can lead to price rises: for instance, one iron and steel company was found to be selling steel billets at 30 per cent above the state price, because demand outstripped supply in a familiar capitalist way.

The developments sketched above do not mean that the nature of Chinese society has changed fundamentally since the death of Chairman Mao. China was no less capitalist during the Cultural Revolution than it is today. It is the existence of commodity production, wage labour and class monopoly of the means of production that determine the existence of capitalism. And capitalism is abolished not by rhetoric about a worker’s state, but by a socialist revolution.
Paul Bennett

More than just a dream (1983)

From the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

When one gives a description of socialism, that is, of a moneyless society where the means of production belong to everyone and where each person works on a voluntary basis to produce goods for the satisfaction of human needs and not for profit, one is often greeted with the objection “That’s just a dream. You’re nothing but dreamers, you socialists." This is a serious accusation because it implies that socialists are pursuing an impossible goal and that our activities are therefore a waste of time.

But there are in fact two kinds of dreams and two kinds of dreamers. Some dreams are no more than fleeting daydreams while others are so sharp and vivid in the mind of the dreamer as to prod them into action with a view to turning the dream into reality. This kind of dream has motivated humanity to some of its greatest achievements, with human labour and ingenuity doing the rest.

Try to imagine, in some far distant past, two human beings peacefully lying by the riverside and watching the birds fly overhead. One of them suddenly exclaims “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fly, like that, high up in the sky and sec the world from above?" The other replies, “What's the point in even thinking about it? The way you’re made, you’re not likely ever to fly, are you? Forget about it." But in the mind of the one with the stronger imagination the dream has already taken root and on his lips you can read these silent words: “How could it be done?" This dream, like so many others, will come to other minds and be passed on to other people, and even if, back in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci’s ingenious flying machines were no more than drawings, he was not for all that wasting his time because today human beings can fly higher, faster and further than any of the winged creatures. Although this does not seem to tie in with “human nature".

But “human nature" is not a constant. Human beings seem terribly limited by it, and yet their physical and intellectual work creates, at each moment in their history, new conditions which open the way to new ideas, which in turn lead to new possibilities and new dreams. Natural forces, once all powerful, now only play a secondary part in human destiny, replaced, particularly in the most developed countries, by social and economic forces. But these are created by human activity and should therefore be within human control.

If men and women today consider themselves competitive, aggressive, lazy, selfish and therefore incapable of living in a social system such as socialism, it is simply because the social system in which they are now living brings out these qualities in people: selfishness, in as much as the essence of capital is to add to itself; competition, because what goes to one owner of capital does not go to the other; aggression when rival capitalists, compelled to expand, come to clash with one another; laziness, since not having to work makes us, even if only momentarily, like one of the ruling class. What stands in the way of a radical transformation of the social system is not in fact our so-called human nature, but a realisation on the part of all workers, men and women alike, that their values and their lives are bound to be greatly influenced by the system they live in and that since they themselves, by their joint productive work, create that system, they can also change it if they so wish.

Why is it, then, that this realisation is not taking place massively, at least in all the developed countries of the world? Why don’t people choose to put an end to their material and psychological difficulties by creating conditions which will from then on have the interest and happiness of humanity as their aim? There is a simple explanation. The present system is of material benefit to a section of our society and this section, though very small (about ten per cent) has the power, thanks particularly to its control of the media and of the education system, to impose certain ideas and to stop the spread of others. And so it does its utmost to preserve the status quo. This can well be considered shortsighted because even for this minority of rich people, a social system which they cannot keep under control and which could lead, at any minute, to the extinction of the whole human race including themselves, is not without its drawbacks for them.

Once this is understood, it becomes clear that the people who insist on visualising the possibility of a different world and who try to capture the imagination of those who remain trapped in their everyday reality — these people who do not just cling to their dream, but work at it wholeheartedly, fighting against ideas forced on them and for the ones they believe in — these people are not just dreamers but active, determined members of society who are doing all they can to change their dream into reality.

The idea of socialism is, like the idea of flying, one of those dreams that seem as old as humanity itself and which has, perhaps, its roots in the social reality of long pre-history. The fact that this dream has not yet come true does not indicate that it is impossible but simply that men and women have not started seriously thinking about it and working to achieve it.
Christine Moss

Slaughter in Vietnam (1970)

From the February 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists look at war in a fundamentally different way from people with other political persuasions. We contend that war in the modern world is caused by the workings of capitalism with its struggles over trade, investments, oil and other resources.

The workers of the world have an identity of interests and have nothing at stake in the thieves’ quarrels of their masters. The working class owns no country. None of the resources are theirs; they have nothing to fight for and everything to gain by uniting to end the system that enslaves them and produces wars and other terrible problems.

Supporters of Trotskyism and the so-called Communist Party support war and take one side or the other, thus lending themselves to the shedding of working class blood for the profits of the capitalist class East or West.

In the case of Vietnam these people seek Victory for the Vietcong and line up behind the nationalist aspirations of developing Vietnamese capitalism.

If it could be shown that Vietnam was an exceptional incident to an otherwise peaceful and humane capitalism and if all that needed to be done was to end this war and all would be well in the world, all the talk and press comments about “this senseless war” might have some point. The fact is that no argument can be advanced condemning the war in Vietnam which would not be equally valid for the first and second world wars, for Korea and all other 73 conflicts that have taken place in the last twenty years. War is a normal condition of capitalism. An article in US. News and World Report (August 28, 1968) shows there have been no less than 128 wars since 1898 and that 57 per cent of these have taken place since the last world war. It must be clear from this that a particular war is an effect which cannot be dealt with in isolation. What we are confronting is a society that produces wars.

The present series of outrages coming to light in Vietnam are part of a greater outrage—the world-wide menace of capitalism. The American Government presents a tragic and ironic spectacle. They would like the world to believe that their concern is freedom and yet the very people they are supposed to be protecting and liberating, including women and babies have been gunned down in their hundreds by American soldiers. A White House press statement put the figure at 567 in My Lai alone.

The subtle extent to which people are conditioned to accept war can be seen from the fact that remote-control killing of scores of thousands of their women and babies by rocket fire and napalm bombing, is seen in a different light. Millions of men, women and children have been blown to pieces by bomber planes whose crews only see a target area from thousands of feet up. The press-button techniques and modern warfare make it possible for large guns or rocket launches to devastate towns and villages many miles away. Are the men who operate these weapons, any less conscious of the fact that they are killing people than if they were shooting them at close range? The argument that killing innocent babies in My Lai is different from killing “enemy” babies is the only rationalisation capitalism can fall back upon. This shows the utter depravity of this system of society.

It is all right for the hypocritical press and politicians to scream “atrocities”, but what about the society that puts guns into men’s hands in the first place? What about the leading statesmen of the world who have presided over the organised butchery of tens of millions of workers, who test and stockpile nuclear bombs capable of wiping out all life on earth, who poison the atmosphere with radiation causing thousands of deaths each year from leukaemia, who sell massive armaments around the world for profit, and the propaganda machine which strives to make it all acceptable in the name of freedom and humanity?

It is absurd to separate a few individuals and say they are guilty of atrocities when they are involved in situations created by society.

In the early days of the 1914-1918 war, posters purporting to show Belgian babies on German bayonets were used to whip up war hysteria. Now, such things are regarded as all part of war. George Brown says “stop weeping and get on with it”. Woodrow Wyatt, another stalwart Labourite supports him. Brown argued that the Labour Party ought to think about the threat to freedom if the “communists” win. What freedom Mr. Brown? The freedom to be gunned down by soldiers? Socialists repudiate the vile lie that butchery and napalm bombing of men, women and children, whether carried out by Americans or the Vietcong or anyone else, can have nothing to do with freedom.

To cover up its murder, capitalism has always raised the cry of freedom. Wage-slavery is capitalism’s freedom for the working class. In keeping with the Labour Government’s support for the war, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s Liaison Committee rejected the demand for Brown’s resignation as Deputy Leader. Meanwhile, demobilised American soldiers were appearing on the T.V. admitting the gunning down of babies, and the question of Nixon setting up a special tribunal to try those charged was being debated. Nixon subsequently appeared on television to say military tribunals would serve the purpose and that the guilty would be punished. He also announced the withdrawal of large numbers of American troops from Vietnam. Some Americans had already received long prison sentences over a rape and murder case known as “Hill 192”. The real culprit, will of course get away with it. What really needs indicting here is the capitalist system. A system that trains young men still in their teens to kill, a system that brutalises and degrades all humanity.

The war in Vietnam is now entering its eighth year with open American involvement. Whatever the outcome the workers will have gained nothing on either side. Hundreds of thousands of them will have been crippled or blinded so that the capitalist class, East and West, can pursue their sources of profit and wage future wars.

In America there have been massive anti-war demonstrations and thousands of young men have destroyed their draft cards. These are hopeful signs of emerging attitudes that desperately need to be taken much further. Even among the protesters American nationalism is still strong. It is the names of the American dead that are read out at demonstrations. The idea of world-consciousness; of being opposed to all wars and coming to understand the cause of war, has yet to take hold in significant proportions. This will come with the general growth of Socialist understanding.

It is noteworthy that with modern means of communication, the attitudes prevailing at home are rapidly reflected by workers in the armed forces. The Pentagon is faced with thousands of deserters and underground “peace" journals circulating among armed men, both in America and overseas. The arguments levelled at Socialists that the armed forces are isolated from the rest of the working class and are therefore cut off from Socialist influence, thereby making them a threat in the hands of the capitalists against the workers organising for Socialism, is clearly out of date.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects the plea of the “left" that the nationalist ambitions of the North Vietnamese ruling class are worth dying for. This amounts to workers killing each other to determine who shall be their future exploiters. Nationalism is a divisive anti-working class concept. Home-rule is a bosses’ issue. We have home-rule in Britain but the capitalist class still own the means of production.
"
The “left-wing” supporters of the Vietcong are as deadly to workers interests as their more openly capitalist rivals. Do they really expect the aftermath of Vietnam to be any different from that of Korea? Do they really think it will do other than leave the way open to future wars? While both groups of workers, those who favour the Eastern bloc, and those who favour the West, go on deluding themselves with the plausible sounding excuses for supporting wars they are both in fact supporting capitalism. They are helping to guarantee that wars will continue.

The consistent opposition of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to all wars has proven to be the only valid position. The establishment of Socialism demands the unity and co-operation of the workers of the world. Such unity and cooperation can only arise from Socialist understanding, that means a clear recognition of the need to change society. To establish a system without frontiers or armed forces, where the scramble for trade and profits no longer exists. The resources of the earth, instead of being a class monopoly used to exploit and destroy, will be commonly owned and used solely to satisfy human needs.
Harry Baldwin

European pollution year (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

During this last decade there has been a growing interest in the problem of pollution. In all industrial countries rivers arc being polluted to an alarming extent with waste from factories. Detergents are everywhere used and these substances cannot be easily removed from water, so our drinking water supply is being depleted. In America some scientists have proclaimed that in ten years time at the present rate of pollution, the U.S. will have to bottle drinking water to conserve its water supply.

Lakes are being polluted with factory waste and with chemical insecticides washed off the land by rain, or dropped into the lakes by spraying aeroplanes. Lake Erie in America has now become so polluted that fish cannot live in it, and today it is a gigantic sewer.

Pollution of air from petrol and diesel fumes is already a big problem, and Los Angeles (once a health resort) is now one of the worst affected towns in the world. Petrol and diesel fumes are a known cause of lung cancer and respiratory diseases.

The insecticide DDT has been banned in many countries, and is so widespread that it has been found in the bodies of penguins in the Antarctica and animals in the Arctic. Practically every human being stores this nerve poison in the fat tissues of the body.

Stocks of war gases are a potential menace as these terrible poisons could kill thousands of people in peace time, by their accidental release into drains and rivers.

Residues of radio active fall-out from nuclear tests, and the waste products of atomic factories, are a constant and insidious danger to mankind. Buried atomic material has escaped from its lead containers in the sea and poisoned fish; it remains active, with unpredictable possibilities.

Pollution of the sea with oil from ships discharging their waste, and the much bigger hazard of oil ships meeting disasters, such as the case of the Torrey Canyon, pouring tens of thousands of tons of oil into the sea, are a constant menace. Fish, sea birds, plankton, and other wild life upon which fish live must depend—and thus our food—are all adversely affected. Added to this is the contamination of the beaches with oil and the spoiling of holidays.

Chemicals used in food manufacture have increased enormously. The food trade employs more chemists than any other industry, and about 1,000 different chemicals are regularly used in food processing. Flavouring essences, colouring matter, preservatives, anti-staling agenus and anti-oxidants are used more now than ever before, and the nutritional value of all our foods is decreasing as a direct result.

Food is not produced because people need it. There are plenty of hungry people in Asia and Africa but nobody is going to produce food for them unless they can buy it. Food is produced for profit—“no profit, then no food” is the rule of the farmer, the miller, the baker, the grocer and every food vendor. So long as food is produced for profit then just so long will food be faked and adulterated and falsified by advertisements to increase profits.

So long as it is cheaper to dump factory waste into rivers then so long will it be done.

Politicians and other authorities cannot rid the world of pollution because it means getting rid of the profit motive in society, which they are committed to maintaining. Up to now they have only spread confusion in this field (as in every field). No amount of legislation and amendments to Acts on pollution, or food making, or banning certain drugs, would put this matter right. As soon as one drug is banned because of its side effects, there are a dozen more ready to take its place. And so it is with detergents, insecticides and all the rest.

The many conferences to deal with pollution that have been planned this year (which is officially Conservation Year) are bound to fail in the same way as the disarmament conferences failed, and because of the same reason. The prime cause of pollution is capitalism itself, for capitalism cannot function without polluting the world. No doubt efforts will be made to stem the tide, but capitalism is bound to fail to conquer this problem for it is capitalism itself that is creating it. 
Horace Jarvis

Where to buy the Socialist Standard: (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

LONDON: Indica, 102 Southampton Row, WCI. News-stand outside Midland Bank, High Holborn. WCI. The Compendium, 240 Camden High Street. NW1. News Stores, 10 Coptic Street, WCI (near British Museum). Collets, Charing Cross Road. WC2. Housmans, 5 Caledonian Road, Nl. Herbert Newsagent, 39 Bloomsbury Way. W.C.I. SPGB, 52 Clapham High Street. SW4 (all literature). And at Hyde Park every Sunday.

BELFAST: The Paperback-Shop, Gresham Street. 

BIRMINGHAM: Reference Library, every weekday, evenings only. The Ramp, New Street Station, every Saturday.

BRIGHTON: The News-stand, Sussex University. The News-stand, London Road. News-stand, College of Technology. Unicorn Bookshop, Gloucester Road. 

EDINBURGH: Cairn’s Bookshop.

GLASGOW: Bryson's, Byres Road. Wl. Clyde Book Shop, High Street. McDonalds, Maryhlll Road at Cromwell Street.

LIVERPOOL: Wilson’s Bookshop, Church Alley, off Church Street, Liverpool. Bob’s Newsbox, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool 3.

MANCHESTER: Percival's, Oxford Road; also Percival's at St. Peter's Square and Wilmsiow Road. Didsbury.

SWANSEA: SATURDAYS 10-12 am.. Central Library, Morriston Branch Library.

WOOLWICH: W. Tyler, 30 Woolwich High Street. SE18.


Violence in politics (1970)

From the May 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The upsurge of violence in modern society probably means that “Law and Order” will be the most explosive single political issue of the 1970’s. What concerns socialists most is the political violence which has been seen of late in Paris, London, Tokyo and many large American cities. This has been carried out by large numbers of people, mostly young, who have the avowed intention of changing society and of even instituting “Socialism”. Indeed, many of these insurgents claim to adhere to the theories of Karl Marx. Not surprisingly, Marx is once again widely regarded as the apostle of violent revolution, barricades and fighting in the streets.

At a recent debate in Edinburgh the audience heard our opponent claim that Marx had never supported the use of the ballot in achieving Socialism and had always advocated using force of arms. Whether this statement was due to ignorance or “tactics” is unknown. We say Marx’s views on the revolutionary use of the ballot by the working class are not a matter for debate, they are a matter of record and were dealt with by us in the April issue of the Socialist Standard.

Why this obsession with violence, then? After all, it is only a few years since the emphasis in the protest movement was on the non-violent. The theme of the earlier Aldermaston marches was that “we shall overcome” by pacifist methods, a far cry from the bloodthirsty spectacle of recent Easters.

The key lies in the fact that as capitalism continues on its not-so-merry way its problems not only increase but intensify. For example, the Spanish Civil War pales to insignificance with its post-war parallel in Vietnam, and prior to 1939 the disarmers were aghast at the thought of submarines and mustard gas. Today, it is thermonuclear and bacteriological warfare.

Most of the current crop of “revolutionaries” came into politics through their disgust at one or another of capitalism’s evils. Many of them were originally supporters of the Labour Party and helped get it elected in the belief that this would be a step towards eliminating certain social problems. Of course, the reality has been very different. To many it has seemed that governments lack the will or are too treacherous to deal with the problems and that it doesn’t matter who the votes are cast for, the result is the same — human misery on a vast scale. Thus they come to the conclusion that the ballot is useless, a kiss on a piece of paper.

Is it as simple as that? Is it really lack of will that prevents governments solving the problems? The myth is that governments could take capitalism by the scruff of the neck if they really wanted to. Actually, it is the other way round. How can a government determine or forecast the actions of the rest of the world? And how can it deny — if it wishes to retain popular support — the wishes of the majority? For there is another myth dearly held by the protesters, that the majority is really on their side. The fact is that the majority either supports capitalism or can see no alternative way of running society except on a production for profit basis.

So, it is a lack of desire for Socialism (production for use) that keeps capitalism going. Governments have no choice but to run the system the best way they know how. The vote, then, is not necessarily useless. Rather it is like a razor which can be used to separate a man from his whiskers or his breath. Likewise, a vote can be a weapon of emancipation or self-inflicted wage slavery, depending on the man using it.

In their frustration the protesters must turn to solutions outside of majority support, and there is no lack of would-be leaders to provide such solutions from the rehashed theories of Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, etc., and their insistence that since all previous revolutions have been violent so must the next one be, too.

We deny this most unMarxian viewpoint on the grounds that the factors involved in revolutions do not remain constant. The bourgeois revolutions of 19th century Europe took place against a background where the bourgeois had no option but to take up arms. The existing legality was often undemocratic, so the only way to change things was by illegal means.

Also, these upheavals occurred when the level of weaponry was low by today’s standards. Then it was a case of rifle against rifle, horseman against horseman. In such a situation it was possible that revolutionaries fired by the “justice” of their cause and as well, or as poorly, armed as the mere hirelings of the state could take on and beat them. Nowadays, the situation is vastly different. No group outside of the state machine could possibly seize power in a modern country in the face of the sophisticated weaponry ranged against them. Much wiser to win control of the state machine first.

The most important changed factor is that previous revolutions have always been carried out in the interest of a minority who understood what was at stake. The socialist revolution will be the first one in the interest of a majority, so, along with Marx and Engels, we hold that the majority must also understand what is at stake.

In any case, those who have actually tried to seize power without first winning political control in more recent times have failed miserably. The May 1968 Paris affair was crushed without any real force having to be used. Probably the only shots fired came from the students, themselves. No tanks, aircraft or artillery were required. Indeed, this writer has a vivid memory of seeing on TV how a Paris Municipal street cleaning vehicle made short work of a barricade.

Ignoring the myth of Mussolini’s march on Rome, the most serious attempt was Hitler’s Munich putsch in 1923. The rebels were desperate, trained and armed men, many of whom had fought in world war one, and they constituted a more potent force than anything today’s barricadists are likely to provide. Through the streets of Munich they marched until confronted by the state machine in the form of some policemen armed only with rifles. A volley of shots rang out and some of the marchers fell dead or wounded. Alan Bullock, in his Hitler — A Study in Tyranny, tells of the ensuing panic and collapse of the putsch. Although Hitler dislocated his arm in the stampede to get away, his brain continued to function. There and then he realised that attempts to bypass the state machine were useless. From then on he set out to win the minds of the German electorate and to win power legally. Once this had been achieved the military had no option but to accept Nazi rule.

Of course, the widely held view among the “revolutionaries” is that it is impossible for socialists to capture the forces of the state; that in the event of a socialist majority the armed forces and the police will be used to cow that majority into submission. How valid is this idea?

Socialists claim that the idea of Socialism — a world without social classes in which the means of production will be commonly owned — is produced out of the revulsion of capitalism’s problems, its wars, crime, poverty, alienation. that the values and institutions of capitalism increasingly come into conflict with the growing desire of the working class to live in a society more in harmony with their needs. In short, socialist consciousness is a product of capitalism’s problems. Now, there is no evidence to suggest that members of the armed forces are any more backward than other workers in factories or offices. Their ideas are pretty much the same on matters of sport, sex or politics. They do not live in a vacuum.

So, how likely is the soldier to obey a command to suppress a socialist working class? Not so long ago this writer did his National Service and can, accordingly, speak from first-hand experience. Did we obey our officers because we loved them or regarded them as superior beings? Actually, a chief topic in the NAAFI any night of the week was what a useless shower officers were. Also, any officer issuing an order which we knew to be unauthorised could be safely, and often was, ignored. During the years of National Service the newspapers often carried exposures of servicemen being misused, supplied by the men themselves.

The reason why we obeyed the officers was that even we, without a socialist idea in our heads, knew that those in command are backed by the populace at large. The working class today, as before, thinks the armed forces are necessary, so, logically, it regards discipline as a must. Officers with no authority telling soldiers exposed to socialist ideas to do what they certainly won’t want to do — shoot their own families — will be more likely to have the arms turned on them!

The most urgent task, then, for those who wish to abolish capitalism and institute Socialism, is to organise with others of like mind. No need to form another organisation when the Socialist Party of Great Britain has been in existence for 66 years. There is a great need to carry the socialist case out into the ranks of the working class, particularly now as capitalism’s rottenness becomes more exposed to the public gaze. First, it is necessary to understand that case, and a start can be made by discarding the romantic nonsense of the barricades. Those who most loudly proclaim their hatred of the bourgeoisie show it in a strange way by aping it.

We do not see the ballot as a cure-all ; it is majority understanding of Socialism which counts most. How will we know when we are a majority? there may be better methods of finding this out, but, meantime we still think that the ballot is the best way of finding out what people are thinking at any particular time.
Vic Vanni

A ride on the merry-go-round (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Taking part in a general election is rather like having a ride on a merry-go-round. It is noisy, gaudy, exciting. It has something to divert us, even though temporarily, from the problems of the day. And when it is all over and we get down from our horse, we have a distinct impression of having been here before.

The election programmes of the capitalist parties in 1966 all told us about their plans for dealing with certain social ills. They told us about building a safer world, where the weapons of destruction are kept firmly under control and where war is a disappearing fear. They had a lot about poverty and of how they had the final solution to want and insecurity. In some cases, they pinned it down to particular issues; like housing, which they said was a simple matter of trusting them to provide decent homes for everyone.

Any elector with a stomach strong enough could have ploughed through several of these programmes, all making the same sort of promises about the same problems. And any elector with a memory long enough could recall that he was served up with the same stuff in the election of 1964 — or 1959, 1955, 1951, 1950 . . .  and that in fact there had always been the same high sounding plans and empty assurances, for as long as there had been votes to win.

One thing which is absolutely certain now is that it will be no different in 1970. It does not need any talent for clairvoyance to know that in this election we shall be assailed by Labour, Conservative, Liberal, “Communist” with manifestoes which are blockbusters of promises. And they will be talking about war, poverty, wages, housing, insecurity . . .

Another certainty is that the voters, who are the working class, will be sufficiently impressed by these programmes to make their choice between the parties presenting them. The electors will actually consider whether they will accept the dud cheques of the Labour Party in preference to those of the Tories. They will argue about which capitalist party shall be given the chance to deceive them, exploit them and suppress them for the next five years. And having chosen they will sit up all night on polling day to watch open-mouthed for the result of this non-race.

Having done this, and having given power to one or other of the parties of capitalism, the working class will return to their problems — war, poverty, housing, disease and so on. Until the next election comes round, when the merry-go-round will start again and the manifestoes will come out telling us how easy it is to stop all these social ills.

One of the most dangerous features of the merry-go-round is that it is a diversion. The workers are impressed with the glamour of it all; they think it important, whether Wilson supports the right football team and whether Heath is married. They become caught up in the razzmatazz of the election and argue as if there were some fundamental difference between Labour and Tory and the others. They have their ride on the merry-go-round—and they pay for it.

In other words, among the confusion and the deception and the glamour, the real issues and the fundamental interests are submerged. What matters in this election, and in all the others, and in fact all the time, is not which party is given the job of running capitalism, reformed or unreformed. As long as capitalism continues so will its problems—and so far no one has been able to think up any way of having capitalism without war, poverty, famine and the like.

What matters is whether the working class will take this chance to look at a more basic programme — nothing less than dealing with the cause of their problems instead of meddling with their symptoms. This means a fundamental questioning of capitalism—its property basis, its privileges, its false principle of leadership. It would be a useful start in this, to look back at those old election promises, to compare them and the current ones and to contrast all of them with the facts of reality and achievement.

It is only the shortest step from this, to replacing capitalism with a society based on the common ownership of the means of production; to building a world without classes, frontiers, racial divisions, privileges; without want amid riches. The urgent problem for the working class now is to replace capitalism with Socialists—to stop the merry-go- round and get off.

*     *     *     *     *

The Socialist Party is to contest two seats in the general election on June 18 — Hornsey and Clap- ham, both in London.

CLAPHAM
Candidate: F. Simkins 
Election Rooms:
52, Clapham High St., S.W.4. 01-622-3811

HORNSEY
Candidate :
E. Grant
Election Rooms:
159 Turnpike Lane, N.8

Members and sympathisers are urged to contact their nearest election room to help in this socialist election campaign.

Please send donations to the Parliamentary Fund, c/o Treasurer, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52, Clapham High Street, S.W.4.


An Anarchist Listens (1970)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir,

One is used to reading lies in the Socialist Standard but some are more unjustifiable than most. You claim: "Both anarchists and bolshevists counterpose leadership plus formal organisation to leaderlessness plus ‘spontaneity’. The socialist proposal that ordinary working . . .” ("Listen Anarchist", March). He goes on to claim that Anarchos is rare among anarchists in thinking that Communism is state capitalism.

Certainly some anarchists believe in spontaneity, some believe in syndicalist organisation, the two argue the case vigorously, but coexist happily in the same movements and since asking workers to act for themselves is the important part and the suggestion made by some and deprecated by others that industrial unionist organisation will help does not prevent very similar work being done by both. What we deny is that a bourgeois parliament is a suitable forum or vehicle for ordinary working people to operate democratically without leaders and insist that they need to build their own organisations to do this, whether this is done spontaneously i.e. without preparation, or whether it is done by a slow process of construction in syndicate organisations, or whatever.

Many anarchists — if not most — would perhaps prefer to use the term managerialist rather than state capitalist (even the Socialist Party of Great Britain has at last in its 1969 Conference acknowledged that the capitalist nature of the Soviet ruling class resides in its nature as an whole class and not in individual holders of capital) but with the exception of a very small minority anarchists do use one or other term to denote a class system.

No anarchist believes in leadership — though some of us advocate a militant minority pressure group, provided it is certain that it has no leadership function — and we are generally attacked for alleged opposition to all forms of organisation (untrue) and belief in spontaneity (not always true).

It is interesting that you claim that what is advocated in Listen Marxist has been advocated in the Socialist Standard for years or decades past. I have no particular liking for the Anarchos group, and have written to the English publishers with criticisms. but one might remind you of what Marx said on the matter; basically that it is Utopian to advocate demands beyond what the economic development of the age will stand, so if it is true that for decades the Socialist Party has been advocating all that is in Anarchos, which being edited by a cyberneticist is perhaps overly enamoured of automation, then you most certainly were idealistic Utopians advocating policies ahead of the time.
                                                                                                                            Faithfully,
Laurens Otter, 
Thornton Heath.


Reply: 
Maybe it’s because he is not always strictly accurate himself that Laurens Otter is always reading lies! For example, in the article he mentions we said that ‘‘most" of the ideas Anarchos proclaimed as new had long been advocated by us. Otter turns this into a claim that we advocate “all that is in Anarchos". Frankly, we did not even know' that Anarchos was a regular magazine.

We are well aware that there is a great variety of anarchisms (see ‘‘What is Anarchism”, Socialist Standard, December 1967) whose only common factor is an anti-State ideology. Otter concedes that he is one of those anarchists who stand for minority action. This was a feature of bourgeois revolutions like those of France in 1789 and Russia of 1917. Which is why we say that anarchism and Bolshevism are both left-overs from bourgeois revolutionary theories and stand opposed to the Socialist view that the workers must emancipate themselves.

Finally, a few points about the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We say that the workers must organise democratically to control Parliament because this controls the State machine which, at the very least, must be taken out of the hands of the capitalist class before the attempt to establish Socialism can be made. The democratic self-organisation of the working class, by the way, will not be through Parliament but in the socialist political party (and any economic organisations set up in preparation for the change-over to Socialism) which will control Parliament.

The resolution passed at our 1969 Conference on the Russian ruling class does not commit us to a managerialist view. It stated quite clearly that the ruling class in Russia were capitalists not managers and was mainly concerned with the terminology we use when referring to the Russian rulers. It did not represent any change in our analysis of state capitalism there.
Editorial Committee

Obituary: A. S. Wilson (1970)

Obituary from the August 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to announce the death of Comrade Wilson of North Wales. Comrade Wilson had been a members for many years, having been active in Cardiff and Newport areas. Latterly, he has been living in Caernarvon and served as a contact for the Party in that area.

We extend our sympathy to his wife and family.

Obituary: Harold Holt (1970)

Obituary from the September 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

We report with regret the death of Harold Holt aged 64 who had been ill for sometime. He joined the Party in 1931 whilst living in London and became a very active member of the then Wembley Branch and was for some time an Executive Committee member and for a period the Party Funds Organiser and Overseas Secretary.

We extend our sympathy to his family.

Jamaica: The task ahead (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
(We publish below an article from The Socialist Review, which our comrades in Jamaica publish, introducing Socialism to its readers.)
We welcome you to this our first edition, and look forward to a long and enlightening association. First, let us state clearly what is our object and how we intend to achieve this: the education of the working class to their real interest in society, and to expose the bankrupt social order under which we live.

We live in a capitalist society, and this is world wide. The main feature of this society is property ownership, buying and selling. On the one hand there are those who own all the important things in the world, land, factories, mines etc. On the other side the vast majority of those who own nothing except their abilities. By sheer necessity, those who own nothing are forced to sell their abilities to those who own. On this basis society as it is functions.

From what has been said it is clear that there are only two classes of people in capitalist society. Those who own, the capitalist class, and those who sell their skill, the working class. The popular view of a middle class is really a myth. The doctor is as much a worker as the bus driver, or the street cleaner. Observe that even doctors go on strike to support their demands for more pay and better conditions. Workers’ income groups are different, but they are still of the same class.

The conflict between capitalist (to pay as little as possible) and worker (to secure as high a price as possible) is an inherent feature of capitalist society. Nothing that can be said or done can reconcile the opposing interests of these two classes. Those of the owning class have clear ideas as to their interest. They, however, with their power and wealth and control of the mass media use these to maintain and even widen the division within the working class. They have done this with great success. Their existence depends on this division.

We must remember that society as it is today does not mean that it was always so. There was a time when men lived as slaves; they changed from this and became serfs. They again changed to the present system of wage earners. We Socialists believe, and events the world over support us, that the time is ripe for another change. Our present social system has outlived its social usefulness ; it is now a hindrance to mankind. Most people sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the world, but can’t name it. That unnamed thing really is, trying to operate a social system that is no longer in harmony with world conditions. Things are produced only if they can realise a profit, not to satisfy human need. Observe the vast areas of poverty alongside pockets of wealth. Capitalism has done much in the improvement of productive methods for man. It is quite hopeless at distributing this wealth it can create.

Socialists advocate a system of society where each will contribute to production and partake freely of his need. Sounds fantastic? We have heard that before, just think for a moment of the fantastic things we have come to accept as normal under capitalism. It is now quite normal for thousands of people to starve to death, as we have seen in one-time Biafra, while farmers in America are paid not to cultivate their land. Capitalism distorts the vision of a future society. We can only see a different system in terms of our present one.

Socialism can only function on a world wide basis. It cannot and does not exist in any country. Russia is just as capitalist a country as America. The constant reference to Russia as a Socialist country only serves to confuse the issue of what Socialism is. The attainment of Socialism is not only possible but necessary. The great mental problems that are evident in the developed countries: more people are going mad, there is widespread frustration and a deep sadness that seems to dominate people’s life. Even pleasure has been turned into a way of escape. All these are becoming more noticeable in our society.

The task ahead is difficult indeed; so much distortion and confusion to clear up. That is why we need your help, in whatever way you can. Read our literature, get to understand fully our point of view. Apart from the personal reward that this knowledge will give, you will be able to play an historic part in popularising Socialism throughout Jamaica. Hard and difficult yes, but so worth while.

Cathy — no home to go to (1970)


From the November 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cathy — shall we ever forget — was the fair, slim, lovely young girl whose family and life were wrecked simply because they could not find a home. They went from one hopeless situation to another, from verminous slum to wet tent to reception centre. She was parted from her husband and then from the last of her children. In the end she stood by the roadside with the passing lamps of the lorries playing across her face. She was going home, back the way she had come.

The play was an instant success, owing nothing to the fact that it was the work of an ex-Etonian. There were one or two rather half-hearted attempts to debunk it but the author had got in first; all the incidents in the play, it was announced at the beginning, had happened, in London, during the previous year. This was reality. Shocked, everyone agreed; something must be done about the homeless.

That was several years ago. Since then, there have been countless promises and schemes to deal with the problem. Statistics have been computed, weighted, published. Speeches galore have been made and applauded. And last month the latest figures came out. in the annual report of the grandly titled Department of Health and Social Security.

That name in itself sounds enough to assure us all that health and security arc in good hands, that there is actually a department full of civil servants with higher civil servants at the head and a Minister of the Crown over them all to make sure that we are all healthy and secure. Surely, with such an army of talent and diligence to serve us, a little matter like the homeless would simply wither away?

As a matter of fact, this latest report includes a special write-up on the homeless, commissioned by Richard Crossman when he was at the head of the Department and before the electorate decided that they were so dissatisfied with the way the Labour government were dealing with these matters of health, security and so on that they would try the Tories again. And this write-up indicates that the late government have been less than successful in this field, where they made so much political capital while the Tories were last in power.

The report said that in 1969 20,820 people lived in emergency accommodation. In 1967 the figure was 16,176. which means that during the past two years the numbers of homeless people have risen by one third. Even a government like Wilson's, which was constantly nagging about increasing production, must feel proud at such a steep rise in that particular field of production, even if it is the production of misery.

It is bad enough to contemplate the rise in the homeless. What is worse is to do so against the background of the political manipulation which goes on, the pledges which are given and the idea which all the capitalist parties put about, that the problem can be cleared up simply by carrying out one or two policies which are to be found in their programmes. On housing, there seems no end to the politicians’ cynicism.

In the 1966 election, the Labour Party programme said that their first priority was houses. Note that: their first priority. They intended to achieve a target of 500,000 houses a year by 1969/ 70, and then to go on to higher levels still. Three months later, in June 1966, the Ministry of Housing were admitting that the present target of 400,000 a year could not be met and by the end of the year there had been what the Daily Telegraph called a “drastic” fall in house building. (At the same time, despite all those homeless, the builders were complaining about a fall-off in demand).

The same month these figures were announced, saw the launch of Shelter, heralded with a procession of grim statistics: three million families in Britain in slums, near slums or in grossly overcrowded conditions; in Glasgow 100,000 unfit houses, in Liverpool 73,733; a waiting list in London of 150,000 families, in Birmingham 38,000. This, apparently, was a fall-off in demand.

Nevertheless, the Labour government bounced back. The very next month blunt Bob Mellish, who won a reputation for straight speaking because he was MP for a dockers’ constituency and who was at that time Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, lashed out with his own figures. He claimed a big advance in tackling the housing problem and audaciously predicted that London’s slums would be eradicated by 1972. Of course, at that time the Labour Party were rather worried about their chances in the elections to the GLC which were looming over an unpromising horizon but bluff Bob was too honest to be diverted by such considerations, wasn’t he?

About fourteen months later, in May 1968, Mellish’s Minister, Anthony Greenwood, enlarged on his claim. Perhaps, since Greenwood was a higher Minister than Mellish he thought it only right that he should be rather more ambitious. At any rate, he was not content to think just of London’s housing; he talked about ending the entire housing shortage “in about five years’ time”. He even went as far as to mention a surplus of housing, although he also said that nobody could forecast what the demand (that word again) would be in the 1970’s.

This startlingly confident approach was obviously considered a winner by the Labour government who, following Wilson’s dictum that in politics a week is a long time, must have thrilled to think how much longer is five years. In February 1969 Kenneth Robinson, who held the grand title of Minister of Planning and Land, coolly repeated the Greenwood line in the Commons:
By 1973 we should have a margin of about one million more houses than households. That should be just about enough nationally to give us the 5 per cent we want for mobility of labour and orderly working of the housing market. The national housing shortage should then be over . . .
One wonders what those builders, preoccupied with their visions of falling demand, thought about all this cheery talk of a surplus. Perhaps, keeping their heads like solid business men, they knew that it was all politicians’ blather. When the figures for 1969 housing came out. in January of this year, they showed a slump in the construction of new homes to 366,793 — the lowest total since the bad Tory days of 1963. Somehow, Greenwood could not bring himself once again to talk about ending the shortage; he fell back on the old Labour sport of Tory-bashing. “In the last five years,” he said, “there have been five houses built for every four built in the last five years of the previous government.” Which was not, probably, a remark which helped Labour win the last election.

And that brings us to the last batch of manifestoes, and the promises in them, again, to end the housing shortage. Labour’s are for the moment irrelevant; the Tories said that they will
. . . house the homeless . . . concentrate on slum clearance and . . . provide better housing for those many families living without modern amenities.
Good enough to warrant a standing ovation at a Tory conference, but in reality worth no more than all the other, similar pledges made before. (The Tory programme also said that the problem of the homeless “. . . is concealed by unrealistic official statistics. We will lay down a more sensible definition . . " That must have got past the censor.)

And that brings us to the present, and to the latest figures of homeless. One criticism which was made of Cathy Come Home was that Cathy and her husband were such nice, good-looking, intelligent people that they did not represent a homeless family, who are usually of the more inadequate, lower paid variety of worker. There may be some point in this, but if there is it only highlights the fact that housing difficulties are part of a poverty problem and that the deeper the poverty the worse the housing situation.

Poverty is ineradicable under capitalism but the system’s leaders can never admit their impotence to deal with it. They must go on. with their promises and their assertions and their programmes. Meanwhile, the harsh reality remains. This is what Enoch Powell, who sometimes comes uncomfortably near the truth for the peace of mind of his fellow-misleaders, once said about it all:
For fifty years we — my brother politicians — have practised in regard to housing the oldest and cruellest of all the deceptions which politicians practise on their victims — to persuade them that we will make a thing cheap and plentiful for them by holding down the price of it by force. (The Guardian, 29 November 1968)
“Cruel . . . deception . . . victims . . .” What words to use, about the work of what is supposed to be an honourable profession. But what other words can be used, about the people who are prepared to lie and cheat to gain some advantage for their particular method of running capitalism, and when they coldly do so knowing that they are playing with the health and the happiness of human beings?

Capitalism has no home for Cathy, only endless misery and despair, with lives broken and all in the name of privilege. We are right to be angry but at the same time we must remember that there is work to be done, to set up the new society of abundance and hope.
Ivan.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Irish Republicanism (1970)

Book Review from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Republic of Ireland, by D. R. O'C. Lysaght. (Mercier Press. 21s.)

This book claims to start where James Connolly’s Labour in Irish History left off. Whatever else can be said of Connolly’s book, at least it was easy to read and understand. The same cannot be said of Lysaght's which is written in a peculiar style and is often repetitive.

Lysaght traces the origin of the Irish State and its subsequent political evolution: how Ireland’s wealthy classes originally supported those who were in favour of the 1921 Treaty with Britain against the Republican opposition: how in the 1930's they transferred their allegiance to the Republicans in De Valera’s Fianna Fail which remains to this day Ireland’s normal governing party: how the old Republican policy of protectionism has now given way to an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area and a desire to join the Common Market.

Lysaght claims to be a Socialist, but is rather some kind of a trotskyist. His immediate aim is "the Workers’ Republic of Ireland". He does not pretend, as some of its advocates do, that this is the same as Socialism, but is forced to admit that
  In the fullest sense, it won’t be ’Socialism', but, then, that will only appear as the last stage of social development but one and on an international scale.
(The last stage presumably is ‘Communism’, suggesting that Lysaght accepts the false socialism/communism distinction).

The full Republican programme — an All-Ireland Republic politically and economically independent, particularly of Britain — has yet to be realised and is in fact impossible. There has always been a disagreement in Irish opposition circles as to what should be their immediate aim. In 1919 the Irish Labour Party adopted the slogan "First the Republic, then the Workers’ Republic" and this is still essentially the policy of Sinn Fein, the IRA and various Communist and Maoist groups “partly because", Lysaght suggests, “their numbers are certainly too small to achieve Socialism under present circumstances". He, however, is no more logical since he can only argue that the immediate struggle should be for the Workers’ Republic rather than for Socialism on the same sort of grounds as those he criticises argue for the Republic rather than the Workers’ Republic.

The World Socialist Party of Ireland, set up in 1950, argues that workers in Ireland should be striving neither for an All-Ireland Republic nor for a Workers’ Republic, but for Socialism. We too realise that this can only exist on a world scale and so can only be achieved by the workers of the world co-operating to establish it. We are thus opposed to all other groups who deny that world Socialism should be the immediate objective of workers in Ireland and other countries.

Lysaght admits that the Irish Labour Party stands for state capitalism, but argues that socialists should work within it because "it is the largest explicitly proletarian-based party in the country". This is a familiar argument which has been utterly discredited in relation to the British Labour Party, but there is one very significant difference in the way this case for joining Labour is presented in Ireland. Lysaght cannot argue that the Labour Party is the mass workers’ party, but has to introduce the word “explicitly". This is because, as he himself points out, the majority of Irish workers support the governing party Fianna Fail and about as many support the main opposition Fine Gael as support Labour. The Labour Party should be opposed precisely because it stands for state capitalism, not to mention its record as part of the 1947 and 1953 “inter-party" governments.
Adam Buick