Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fission confusion (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The political fall-out continues from the Fukushima plant as radiation levels continue to be revised upwards and the problems continue to cascade, with each solution itself presenting a new problem. Neighbouring states glare balefully as the Japanese now try to justify dumping 110,000 tonnes of  radioactive water into the local fishpond. Meanwhile governments across the world hold Nuclear Safety Reviews in a fever to satisfy worried populations that they are not being as careless over nukes as they usually are over everything else.

The UK’s Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, has been hurriedly asked to do a review of all nuclear facilities, and has delivered his interim report (Link). The bemused Dr Weightman sees ‘no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK’, no doubt because category 9 earthquakes and giant tsunamis tend not to happen in Britain very often.

However this hasn’t stopped the Nuclear Free Local Authorities pressure group, together with the Greens, from trying to whip up the anti-nuke fever with a briefing seminar at Westminster on the future of nuclear new build (

Now the EU is even talking about a nuclear-free Europe, after Germany and Switzerland have announced the winding down of their entire nuclear programme and Italy has just overwhelmingly voted against nuclear energy in a landslide referendum (BBC Online, 14 June).

Almost alone in Europe, France continues to be independent and pro-nuke, possibly because of its history of being invaded by other Europeans, and Britain too remains resolute, possibly because of its history of being invaded by the French.

Folks with long memories were probably surprised at the renaissance in recent years of the nuclear option. There was a time when the anti-nuclear lobby seemed to have won the argument, or at least the contest for public opinion. The anti-nuke brigade had always got its biggest boosts from accidents at nuclear power stations, notably at Windscale in 1957, later at Three Mile Island in 1979, and of course famously at Chernobyl in1986.

Older Britons might remember having to pour all their milk down the sewers in Lancashire in 1957, but it was a shock to have to do it again in 1986 because of a leak the other side of the world. From this last disaster the pro-nuclear lobby seemed destined not to recover. Soon after this the German Greens saw a large increase in their support and the Green Party in the UK had its peak electoral success. But the opposition would not last indefinitely.

Indeed it was the very success of the environmentalist agenda itself which began steadily to erode the consensus against nuclear power. It was after all the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels, and there wasn’t much doubt among experts that fossil fuels were implicated in global warming.

While environmentalists protested loudly about viable alternatives it was clear to many that these didn’t amount to much in practice. As solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen and other more exotic technologies continued to make little headway, the debate remained a two-horse race of fossil versus fission.

The problem is that nothing comes close to fossil fuels for reliability, adaptability or energy conversion efficiency, while alternatives are always piecemeal solutions which cost a fortune to implement and maintain, and for comparatively low returns.

Short-term governments dislike sinking money into projects with long-term gains (for which they won’t get the credit) when there are always more immediate demands for cash (for which they might). So all the most viable sustainable energy technologies continue to contribute negligible amounts to global energy requirements and where they contribute more, like hydro or biofuels, they end up causing massive environmental or social damage of their own. If there is any major technological advance it is not likely to come from the so-called viable methods but from some less likely source, as Scientific American argued in May this year.
So, as the new century dawned and no new technologies were found and significantly, no new Chernobyls occurred, people began listening to the pro-nuke assurances that ‘lessons had been learned’ and ‘technology had progressed’. As old installations neared their pension dates and the question of replacement became pressing, governments talked bullishly about expanding their nuclear build, confident that the people would accept the least-worst option, with resignation if not enthusiasm.

Then Fukushima. And what it has showed is a fundamental split between what governments want and what populations want. The real problem that faces the world’s governments, and by extension the various warring parties of its ruling class, is nothing to do with the environment. It’s the ability of some
countries, notably Russia but also China, Venezuela, the Gulf states and potentially even Norway and  Canada, to hold the world to ransom through their ownership and control of oil and gas supplies.

The recent Gulf wars, together with Russia’s trigger-happy hand at the gas tap, have persuaded every economic bloc that it’s either Do It Yourself nuclear or Do As You’re Told fossil imports. And for a bonus, with nuclear power you can get nuclear bombs, as the mullahs in Iran are keenly aware. In any conflict with your neighbours it’s much more effective to throw lumps of plutonium than lumps of coal. Thus, with the global balance of power at stake, nobody’s much interested in the environmentalists and their windmill schemes.

And this is the nub of the matter for socialists. Global energy policy is not being driven by concerns about the environment, however much governments dress the thing up in a pretty green frock, it’s about ownership and control of key resources, who has them, and who’s got the weaponry to seize them.

In capitalism such conflicts are endemic and often end up as wars, but in socialism, where by definition resources are shared and controlled by the collective human race, the problem would be a simple technical one uncomplicated by geopolitical or military questions.

Can nuclear power ever be safe, and even if it can, what do we do with the waste? Can a mix of sustainable resources really meet local needs and what are the environmental or social costs? Can wholesale reduction in consumption, facilitated by non-market production methods, help solve the  problem? Will fusion ever work? Is there something we haven’t thought of yet? Well there is something the world hasn’t thought of yet.

The only way to take politics out of the energy question is to take capitalism out of the equation. Of course capitalist governments are not going to entertain that option. But we ought to.

Trotskyist Zealots & Stalinist Neanderthals (1995)

Book Review from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Seeds of Evil. Lenin & the Origins of Bolshevik Elitism by Robin Blick, Ferrington Press. 31-35 Gt. Ormond Street, London WC1. £5.

The front cover of this book shows a Russian doll. The top one is Stalin, underneath is Lenin and underneath Lenin is Robespierre, the jacobin dictator who ruled France briefly in 1794. The theme of the book is that Lenin's elitist view that the workers needed to be led, and then ruled, by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries had nothing in common with Marx's theory of the democratic self-emancipation of the working class, but derived ultimately from an organisational form developed to further the bourgeois minority revolution in France.

Blick sets out to argue:
"(a) that Leninim's claims to Marxist 'orthodoxy' are bogus;
(b) that Leninism 9in whatever of its versions or mutations) was and remains, by virtue of its assumptions and ethos, an elitist and totalitarian doctrine, capable of creating, whatever its subjective intentions, only elitist and totalitarian societies, in which the proletariat either becomes or remains a politically repressed and economically exploited class;
(c) that, consequently, Leninism constitutes a monumental and tragic hoax perpetrated on countless millions of oppressed and exploited human beings, not only in Russia, but throughout the world."
We would agree with every word here. After all, we've been saying the same thing ourselves for years. In fact there is very little in the whole book that we would disagree with, including the demonstration that the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 was not a "working class soviet (workers' council) revolution" but a military coup engineered by Lenin, Trotsky and the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.

Although, as Blick points out, the pretensions of Leninism are now only defended in the West by "a dwindling fraternity of third-rate intellectuals, Trotskyist zealots and Stalinist neanderthals", this book is one any Socialist should have on their bookshelf in order to be able to refute the twin lies that Leninism is a form of Marxism and that Leninism did not lead to Stalinism.
Adam Buick 

Something to Remember You By (2012)

From the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
It says a lot about the society we live in that there are so many war memorials. The latest addition to London's collection is to the men of RAF Bomber Command who were killed in operations over enemy territory during the 1939/45 war. Wait a minute; that war ended nearly seventy years ago. What took so long? Well to answer that we might do worse than think about Terry, who does not rate a place on a memorial because, although he flew in many of those operations he avoided being killed in them. Strip away his agonising dependence on alcohol and nicotine and you are left with Terry as a nice guy – gentle, caring, sociable. Restless, mind you, which may have been related to his comfortably-off family whose farming allowed them to plonk him into a posh nearby grammar school, but which infected him with an addiction to fast motor bikes and big, powerful goods lorries. And which then led to his partaking in a cruelly prolonged and deliberate act of mass destruction and killing.

Rear Gunner
At the time the gossip was that a desire to escape from his family drove Terry, when he was seventeen, to volunteer for Royal Air Force aircrew. Perhaps he dreamed of being a Spitfire pilot - Winston Churchill and The Few and all that. But he was forced to contain such energies when he was classified as a rear gunner - the coldest, most isolated, most dangerous position - in a squadron of Lancaster bombers. This aircraft was regarded as a marvel of speed, operating ceiling and bomb load, useful to the policy of what came to be known as area - saturation - bombing which emphatically laid waste to a number of great German cities and killed between 300,000 and 600,000 civilians. The casualties in Bomber Command exceeded 55,000 killed - one seventh of all British deaths in action during the course of the war. But the Lancaster offered its rear gunner one hopeful feature, for in an emergency he could use a mechanism to spin the turret so that the armoured doors he had entered through opened out at the tail end of the aircraft; he could then escape by tipping himself backwards and operating his parachute.

Coincidence And Cowardice
Terry contributed to the horror, as he recalled, by completing over sixty operations - well above the average or any expectation - which he survived through a combination of beneficial coincidences and cowardice. On one occasion, in terror while under attack, he used the aircraft Elsan and came back to his turret to find it had been blasted away. On another, soon after taking off and while still in English air space, he heard the pilot shouting that he could smell someone smoking; Terry heard only the word “smoke” so without asking any questions he spun his turret and threw himself out into the evening air. He could give a vivid account of dangling calmly from his parachute while watching the bomber continue on its way to the flak and night fighters. The most colourful incident was when the pilot found, after landing safely from an operation, that Terry had fallen asleep - which was strictly forbidden. He ordered the crew to leave Terry there while he took the aircraft out to the dispersal point at the remotest fringes of the airfield. When Terry eventually woke up his first, immediate sensation took in only the absence of vibration and engine noise so again he threw himself out – except that in this case he was only a few feet off the ground and had a long walk back to the airfield buildings, dragging an open parachute with him. In the years after the war he could laugh at these experiences but he could not laugh - could not even talk about - two incidents when his pilot could not get a badly damaged bomber back to base and crashed it into the sea, or another when his squadron came back to be told that they had seriously failed to hit their target and so must return at once to do it as ordered, flying in the daylight formation for which they had no training. Terry's dominating memory of that raid was of spotting another Lancaster alongside, in which he knew a close friend was the rear gunner. As he watched the bomber dissolved into a ball of fire.

Terrifying Force

By the time Terry was flying on operations, the effectiveness of RAF bombers, in terms of their range, power, technological equipment and bomb load, had been vastly improved. Which must also be said about the disciplined brutality of the raids. Now it was all controlled over the target by a designated Leader Marker who dropped a first flare. This was followed by the Pathfinders dropping aiming marker flares, which the main bomber force then used (once the Marker Leader was satisfied it had all been carried out accurately) to aim their bomb load onto the buildings and people below. And while this was happening the higher levels of command, where the policy was laid down, were involved in a long debate about the most effective – the most damaging and most murderous – method of wielding that terrifying force. Should it be against targets such as aircraft factories, oil plants, railways? Or should it be straightforwardly used against human beings, smashing their homes and all around them and killing as many as possible with the object of undermining their morale and affecting the German war effort. In the process of this argument a number of German cities - Berlin, Cologne, Essen and others - had to pay a savage price. A passionate devotee of the policy of area bombing was then at the head of the RAF Bomber Command - Air Marshall Arthur Harris (known, for obvious reasons, as “Bomber” Harris).  Air Marshall Harris persisted in the face of some influential opposition and attempts to sack him: “ . .  . in the last eighteen months Bomber Command has virtually destroyed forty-five out of the leading sixty German cities. There are not many industrial centres of population now left intact. Are we going to abandon this vast task, which the German themselves have long admitted to be their worst headache, just as it nears completion?” (1 November 1944). The rancour in this dispute over the most likely way to kill the largest number of the enemy was unusually enduring; Harris had to wait until 1953 for the government to award him a baronetcy, there was no campaign medal for the crews and only recently has there been that permanent memorial.

Against the odds Terry survived into civilian life, got married, had kids and was soon brought up against the fact that being one of yesterday's heroes - one of the glorious Bomber Boys - was not unfailingly attractive to employers. And then there was the ever-present need to control the more erratic features in his personality, which may have been acceptable up in the air above some burning German city but not so useful on the ground in peacetime. In bald terms, he and his family had a hard time of it. He split from his wife and was told that he suffered from an aggressive cancer in his lungs. In his last days in hospital he once blurted out that he “...could fight all those fucking Germans but I can't fight this.” At that time the ravaged cities were being re-built, the places of those who had died were being taken by others. And now, in a most blatant example of ruling-class hypocrisy, there is offered a monument to the men who died while they did their bit to make it happen. All of them were victims of the propaganda which insisted that there was an enemy who needed to be fought to exhaustion when in truth all of their interests were in unity. Terry was there because he accepted those lies – allowed them to wreck what should have been another useful life.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Dissatisfied Customer (1973)

Book Review from the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chronicles of Wasted Time, Part I, by Malcolm Muggeridge, Collins, £3.00.

Fourteen years ago Walter Allen's novel All in a Lifetime created a stir by depicting the formative years and ripeness of the Labour Party, and then conveying that a misjudgment of society had been made and it had turned out irrelevant. This first volume of Muggeridge's autobiography covers the same ground, but is different in that the recollections are real not fictional and the result is not perplexity but animated sourness.

Muggeridge's father was a Fabian who became an early Labour Councillor and, eventually, an MP, and the book gives an account of home life in that atmosphere—parlour discussions, meetings with MacDonald, Dalton, etc., and a Tolstoyan "colony" at Stroud. Muggeridge recalls it all subjectively and, to a large extent, derisively. "It was a kind of revivalism without tears; sinful men were to be washed, but not in the blood of the Lamb; in, as it were, municipal water, with carbolic soap purveyed by the co-op." Later, visits to Five-Year-Plan Russia are described as if it were a crude but fortunately transparent attempt at personal fraud on the writer.

These reactions are common. One can meet anywhere men of Muggeridge's generation who shared the faith that beneficent reform would conquer all society's ills. The hopes of an "intellectual, moral and aesthetic transformation" through universal State education, and slums "transformed into garden cities" by Planning Acts; what has been produced is not so much disappointment as a sense of having been swindled. Recalling pacifist talk in his youth, Muggeridge writes of their conviction that the arms manufacturers were the cause of all the trouble: "how surprised we should have been," he says, to know that trading in arms by Labour governments would far exceed the evils of private enterprise.

Yet the illusions were self-created by those who believed all this. The choice between reform and revolution was put before the social-democrats at the beginning of this century, and the majority elected for reform. No notice was taken of Socialists pointing out the all-too-obvious fallacy of—to use one of Muggeridge's own metaphors—"building a housing estate on the slopes of Etna". Despite everything a century's experience should teach, reformists go on being hopeful like bingo-players that the next try will be lucky, afterwards to sit chewing peevishly on "a civilisation dropping to pieces" and "credulous armies of the just".

What is notable also is Muggeridge's lack of contact with workaday life and people. He acknowledges this in speaking of some earthy-proletarian relatives in the North, tries to dismiss it by calling the working class a fantasy invented by Marx, Engels, Morris and D. H. Lawrence, but without showing comprehension of what it really means. Thus, he writes of the start of married life: "We had very little money . . . certainly not more than £100" . . . in the early 'twenties when £100 was a year's pay to many working men! The remark echoes one made in a TV programme a year or so ago when, denouncing birth control and answering a woman who supposed he had always been comfortably-off, Muggeridge said indignantly: "It's quite untrue. It was 1939 before I earned even £1,000 a year"—and appeared oblivious to the thrill of half-amused astonishment in the audience.

And one other curiousity, considering Muggeridge's prominence in crusades against what they call the permissive society. He relates weightily the sexual preoccupation of his marriage in its early days: "Rolling about, now one on top, now another; grunting, coaxing, sweating, murmuring, yelling  . . . We looked to our bodies for gratification, which we felt they owed us." But that was fifty years ago, before pornography and the pill and Oh, Calcutta! had come to make satyrs of us all. Doesn't that give away the whole present case for Muggeridge!
Robert Barltrop

Students and Workers (1973)

Book Review from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The French Communist Party versus the Students by Richard Johnson, Yale UP.

The French Communist Party is one of the two mass Muscovite parties in Western Europe. It is in fact the main party supported by the organised industrial proletariat in France; and is led by ex-industrial workers who have always had a profound distrust of "bourgeois intellectuals" (i.e., radical-minded, university-educated children of business and professional people). These, for their part, have had an ambiguous attitude towards the French CP: respect for the fact that it is the main party supported by industrial workers, but also qualms about its bureaucratic structure and dogmatic ideology. Until the 1960's, argues Johnson, they had been prepared to forget these qualms for the sake of having access to the working class through the Party. "Outside the Party", they thought, "we are nothing", a fear the Party's bureaucrats exploited to the full to get them to toe the Party line.

Towards the end of the 1950's the CP's student section began to adopt a mildly critical line (that of the more flexible Italian CP in fact). The bureaucrats reacted by accusing them of betraying the working class because of their bourgeois origins.

May 1968, however, marked the final break between the radical students and the CP. Humanité, the daily CP paper, described those who took part in one riot as members of "certain groups (anarchists, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc. ) composed in general of sons of the big bourgeoisie and directed by the German anarchist, Cohn-Bendit". Cohn-Bendit replied in kind by speaking of "Stalinist shit".

Many of the students explained the CP's "betrayal" on the grounds that it had become bureaucratised and the victim of its parliamentary strategy (the CP's immediate aim was, and still is, an elected "popular democratic government" with Party Ministers). Johnson rejects the "bureaucratisation" view by pointing out how, on the contrary, the French CP has been extremely flexible, zigging this way and zagging that way on Moscow's orders. Instead, he sees the CP's attitude as a ritual response dictated by its whole ideology (the working class as the sole revolutionary class; the Party as the sole legitimate representative of the working class; and the Party leadership as the sole infallible judge of working class tactics). To back up this view he points out that the Maoists and certain Trotskyist groups also denounced, on ideological grounds, the student movement at "petty bourgeois" and denied that there was a "revolutionary situation" in 1968.

Undoubtedly there was no such situation at that time (even though these groups' conception of a revolutionary situation is radically different from ours). A revolutionary situation did not exist because the great mass of workers in France, industrial and white collar, were not socialist-minded. They were merely discontented, wanting higher wages and some reforms—which they got and returned to work leaving the students out on a limb. On June 12 De Gaulle banned a number of student anarchist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups and, beating the drum of "law and order", on June 30 won a resounding electoral victory. The student groups' attempt at "revolution" in an non-revolutionary period had strengthened the forces of reaction.
Adam Buick  

Party News (1960)

From the October 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Islington members have been reading The New Class, by Djilas (former supporter of Tito and ex-Vice-President of Yugoslavia), and J. Bonus will open a discussion on the book at the Branch Room, Co-op Hall, 129, Seven Sisters Road, N.7. on Thursday, October 13th, at 8.15pm. Further, Islington Branch is arranging a discussion with a member of the Yugoslav Democratic Union (an organisation of exiled Yugoslavs) sometime in November. Details will be announced soon.

The new branch at Wembley seems to have made quite a good start. The inaugural meeting was held at the beginning of July, and a fair amount of activity has packed in since then.

Two visits have been paid to Southsea, one on August 14th and the other on September 11th, and both were successful, with interested audiences and good literature sales. In addition, on Friday evenings throughout September, some very encouraging outdoor meetings were held by this branch at Gloucester Road.

A film show took place on September 12th at the branch rooms and although it was the first to be held there, it attracted a number of non-members. The title of the film was "Eldorado" - a documentary on British Guinea, and it was followed by the usual comments, by a member of the Party.

This has encouraged us to think about further shows in the future, but this will, of course, depend on time available, for there is a very crowded autumn and winter programme of historical lectures. Three members of the branch will be responsible for these, and details appear elsewhere in this issue.

The branch has lost no time in canvassing the Socialist Standard, and both Harrow and Greenford areas have been given special attention. The results have been most gratifying, and local comrades are following up the contacts made. It is hoped to expand sales of the S.S. and other literature steadily over the next few months.

It can be seen from all this that the new branch is active and intends to stay that way. But more help is always welcome and members living in the vicinity are particularly asked to give us their support where possible. We have pleasantly situated branch rooms at Barham Old Court, Barham Park, Harrow Road, Wembley, and meet every Monday at 8pm. Members of the public are cordially invited and facilities are available for the friendly cup of tea and cake after each meeting.

Ealing Branch meetings are continuing very satisfactorily. Outdoor activities have been handicapped by the weather, but some good meetings have been held at Gloucester Road with reasonable literature sales. A very good propaganda trip to Southsea took place on 4th September, with two meetings at which there were excellent audiences. Some useful contacts were made. Winter activities include lectures by Branch members and the resumption of the West London Writers' Class.

On Sunday, September 11th, Paddington Branch paid a social and propaganda visit to Birmingham. Eight members (and a "fellow traveller" from Fulham) drove up in a minibus and were most hospitably received by Birmingham Branch members. After Sunday dinner and conviviality as guests of the local members, an outdoor meeting was held in the centre of the city at Chamberlain Place. This speaking spot is being built up in place of the traditional Bull Ring which is being completely rebuilt. It proved difficult to gather a large crowd partly due to the overwhelming noise from its fountain and droves of starlings on the surrounding buildings, but a small and attentive audience remained for three hours, and a fair amount of literature was sold. The speakers were L. Cox, E. Grant, S. Goodman, I. Jones and C. Wilson. Thanks Birmingham members for your hospitality and support!

Welcome Swansea Branch! This new Branch was recently formed by our enthusiastic and active Swansea members, who have been keeping the torch of Socialism alight in South Wales for some time. We invite all readers in the Swansea area who are unable to personally attend Branch meetings to make a point of contacting the secretary (See Branch Directory, page 146. for details)

The two Glasgow branches, City and Kelvingrove are going to amalgamate their forces. watch this column and the Branch directory for more details.

Classless Society (1936)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canning Town,
London, E.16.

Dear Sir,

In a copy of The Socialist Standard left at my house I notice a phrase is frequently used, i.e., "The Classless Society." Will you kindly explain as fully as possible what you mean by this?

It appears to me that such a position, if ever achieved, could not remain in practice, for surely the members of the community holding the more responsible positions and directing "the centralised machinery of administration" (quoted from The Socialist Standard, December, p.54) would, and could, fairly ask for greater recompense in return for shouldering this responsibility. It follows, them, that there will be, as at present, many varying grades or classes of society—graded according to their abilities; the only class which will not then be extant being the person deriving an income from capital investment.

This, I think, is what the phrase must mean, but allowing that such is the meaning, it appears to be a most vague manner of describing the position I have mentioned previously. However, I should be very pleased to know your definition of the "Classless Society."

Wishing your policy, which I gather is the educating of the general public to an understanding of Socialism, every success.
                                                                                                                            I remain,
                                                                                                                                     Yours, etc,.
                                                             A. H. Kincey.

A careful study of the copy of The Socialist Standard, to which the above correspondent refers, should have convinced him that the S.P.G.B. only knows of two classes in present-day society, namely, the working class and the capitalist or master class. It is the exploitation of the former by the latter which gives rise to the manifold problems with which we are confronted, including the particular one which is puzzling him. The workers are graded and degraded because the structure and purpose of capitalism make that necessary.

Grades, however, are not classes. Hundreds of thousands of workers are promoted to more or less responsible and better-paid positions in the course of their lifetime. Very few can, however, change their class. Those promoted go on working for the master class in once capacity or another; quite unlike those rare ones who suddenly find themselves being left fortunes by hitherto unheard of uncles in the Colonies, or who succeed in winning the Irish sweep.

The reason for the illusion that the more highly-paid workers belong to a different class from those to whom they give orders arises from this very fact, that they are specially paid, not merely to administer affairs in the technical sense, but to supervise or maintain in one way or another the exploitation of their nominal subordinates. Although they receive greater recompense for this work, many of their subordinates are usually as competent, technically, as themselves.

In the very early days of capitalism, the capitalists themselves had to perform this task; but the growth of their capital enabled them to employ special wage-slaves for the purpose, on whom they conferred in varying degrees the appearance  and some small portion of the substance of social superiority. So great have the powers of production grown to-day, however, that there are, not only a multitude of unemployed labourers of varying degrees of skill, or lack of it, but also a growing number of unemployed technicians and administrators of all types.

The multiplicity of parties and the fierce competition in the political area is one expression of this. Under Socialism, however, the principle of co-operation will apply, not merely inside the individual factory or other industrial establishment, but throughout the whole process of social administration. The motive for effort will be neither private profit for the masters, nor individual wages for the slaves. The production and distribution of wealth as efficiently as possible will be in the common interest of all.

This will rule out any need for "grades" (or "classes" as our correspondent terms them) among the workers. As social equals they will be free to develop their abilities in any desired direction to the fullest possible extent. The material means for their training already exist or could be rapidly produced when the restrictions imposed by capitalist conditions have been removed. There will, therefore, be no lack of trained men and women capable of occupying responsible positions interchangeably, and their development into a class or caste is inconceivable. This was made possible and necessary in ancient times only because of the limited resources and small wealth-producing capacity of society in those days.

Economic development has given rise to priests and patriarchs, feudal lords and capitalists in turn. Each of these groups have evolved into classes and dominated society for a period only. New conditions and new needs have brought about the downfall of all, save the last-named, who now stand confronted by the heirs to the slavery of the ages. The emancipation of this class, however, the working class, involves that of all mankind, and the accomplishment of the goal of history, the classless society.
E. B.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Edwardian Times (2004)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back book:
The first edition of the Socialist Standard appeared nearly three months after the formation of the Party, being dated “London, September, 1904” and costing one penny. Entitled the “Official Organ of The Socialist Party of Great Britain”, it was eight pages of dense type and small headlines (in that sense very much the style of the time) but noticeably larger than the current A4 page size. The first editorial promised “we shall give a fair hearing to all sides on any question, and trust that our correspondence columns will be freely used”, a promise that has been upheld ever since by both sides.
The first edition included an editorial outlining the Party’s hopes (in some ways over-optimistic) for the development of the Standard and the movement for socialism in general, but for reference we include in this section an article from this first issue simply entitled “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”. This is because it explains, from the standpoint of the founder members, the basic political positions of the SPGB in distinction to those held by the growing number other organisations claiming the title “socialist” at the time.
The Standard during this pre-First World War period mainly tended to comprise original articles from Party members on topical issues of the time plus theoretical articles expounding aspects of the Materialist Conception of History and Marxian Economics, some written by Party members themselves but many were reprints or translations of the writings of some of the “greats” of the Second International period like Kautsky, Bebel, Lafargue, Guesde and Morris. Perhaps belying the somewhat staid physical appearance of the Standard, the topical articles written by members tended to be lively and polemical, using rhetorical devices in a way the party’s outdoor orators often did. The article about the official appearance of the Labour Party on the British political scene in Westminster (The New ‘Force’ in Politics) is as good as an example of this an any, though some of the later articles we’ve included in this section certainly run it close for tightly-argued political invective.
Politically, the party nailed its colours to the mast on the “nation or class” issue at the outset and the article included here on the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland is a stinging attack on the idea that “national liberation” movements against established imperialist powers are in some way progressive and worthy of working class support. The stark class division identified as being at the heart of capitalism’s social relations by the party’s Declaration of Principles was reflected in many other articles of the time too. Indeed, many modern readers may be surprised at the vehemence with which the early party opposed the Suffragette movement on class grounds, identifying the Suffragettes as – at best – an irrelevant movement of propertied women falsely claiming to represent the interests of female workers.
The naked working class anger at the iniquities of capitalism to be found in the pages of the Standard in its early years is understandable given the conditions of the time and it is exemplified no better than in the articles on the brutal suppression of the miners’ strike in South Wales by the Liberal government and the piece written on the sinking of the luxury liner, the Titanic. Both are fine examples of a particular style of political prose in the small revolutionary milieu in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century and of the application of a class-based analysis to contemporary issues. But contrast these with the more elegant—even quaint—piece on the “motor car problem”, specifically as it affected post-Victorian London where the majority of SPGB members at the time were based.
Lest this particular piece lull any readers into labelling the Party “backward-looking” in its attitudes to developing social issues during this period, the article expounding “the Case For Free Love” should dispel any such myths. It manages to put an eloquent and considered case on the subject long before it was fashionable to do so in radical circles, let alone in the mainstream press.

Is Politics Corrupt? (1967)

From the July 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amongst the literature now put out by the so-called Peace Movement is a small red sticker proclaiming in bold black print: "Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Communist. THEY'RE ALL ALIKE." Such a radical change of policy from that which many of these people were propagating a few years back should not be left without comment. In case anyone has forgotten, the Nuclear Disarmers were among the supporters then the Labour Party had when it took office for the first time in some thirteen years. Now, in their own words:
After two years of government by Labour we have few illusions left about the nature of party politics, the empty promises, and humbug of firm assurances about firm government.
They now stand for, and the Committee of 100 have already stated this, non-violent direct action. "We have broken with party politics, is now their claim. To recognise that there is little difference between the large parties is certainly a big step forward, but this suggests only that Parliament and the vote have been misused not that they are of no use. Ultimate power rests with those who control the state machinery and all its coercive forces. To give up politics and the struggle to gain control of Parliament is folly.

Those people who have come to this decision should think again and look a little deeper into the relationship between the major political parties. They are all alike, but what is it that they have in common? What is it that causes politicians to promise everything and give nothing? People in the "Peace" Movement would no doubt claim that all politicians are evil, completely insincere persons. But what they have in common is the simple fact that they all support the capitalist system of society. They have different ideas about how it should be run but all are agreed on this essential point.

Unfortunately without the necessary understanding of capitalist society, organisations like the Committee of 100 will continue to make these mistaken claims, based as they are on irrational ideas about the social and economic forces at work in society today. The vote, when based on sound Socialist knowledge and used to send delegates to Parliament as opposed to opportunistic leaders, can be the most useful instrument the workers possess.
M. Ballard

Against the state (1992)

Book Review from the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume IV: Critique of Other Socialisms by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press

Marx and Engels gave few details about what they thought socialism would be like. However, they both wrote an enormous amount about what they thought socialism would not be like. Or rather, they provided a critique of "other socialisms"—hence the subtitle of this volume of Draper's exhaustive analysis of Marxian politics.

The "other socialisms" were Utopian Socialism (Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen gave useful criticisms of existing society and interesting ideas for a future society, but were naive about how this was to come about); Sentimental Socialism (not a school of socialism but a tendency to be found in various schools, substituting the power of love, humanity or morality for the class struggle); the Anarchism of Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin (criticised for the authoritarianism inherent in its anti-democratic nature); Reactionary Anticapitalisms (those who yearn for a pre-capitalist golden age, as in the writings of Thomas Carlyle); and Boulangism (after General Georges Boulanger in France, an arch-opportunist and a forerunner of "National Socialism").

Marx and Engels were also confronted with a "socialist" ideology which was patently anti-socialist—Bismarckian Socialism (or so-called "State Socialism"). In late nineteenth century Germany the Bismarck regime introduced nationalisation and social-welfare reforms; in part this was to undermine the growing support for the German SDP led by Lassalle, who proposed similar statist reforms (and criticised by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme). It is this Bismarckian, statist conception of "socialism" which—via Lenin in to Bolshevism and the Fabians into Labourism—has become world famous. The irony, however, is that this conception of socialism is largely anti-socialist in its origin.

Draper accepts that in Socialism: Scientific and Utopian Engels gave a "definite repudiation" of "the view that statification equals socialism, or that statification was progressive", but that doesn't stop him peddling the Trotskyist (that is to say, Bolshevik) nonsense about the need for a "workers' state". Engels, in the same place, is quite clear:
The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective capitalist. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more it actually becomes collective capitalist, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-workers, proletarians. But the capitalist relation is not done away with; it is rather brought to a head.
Lew Higgins

Truths, Half-Truths and Lies (2015)

From the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Truth is a troublesome concept, and not just for the ‘bad guys’. For hundreds of years philosophers have sought to define its meaning and understand its efficacy in relation to our world. It has undergone many incarnations including: correspondence truth, coherence truth, pragmatic truth, linguistic truth and its final nemesis, the redundancy theory. It is said that in the dead of night the post-modernists can be seen to dance on truth’s grave. But it has proved to be a most resilient idea that is still valued by most of us even if we fail to articulate just what it is. We can readily identify its antithesis – a lie or false-hood. In contemporary politics ‘propaganda’ is a word many use for false claims or downright lies.
We in the Socialist Party have had a relaxed relationship with the word 'propaganda', using it in its original sense as involving the propagation of ideas. But reading these words and the other articles in this journal an objective reader might very well suspect a ‘bias’ in our analysis of politics, history and economics. We don't deny the existence of a clear perspective – every word is aimed at serving the political cause of the great majority (the working class). This being the case, how can the Socialist Standard hope for journalistic 'balance', or be considered as anything other than ‘propaganda’ both in terms of its perspective and in the possibility that we might manipulate information to suit our political aims? In other words can the reader have any confidence in the truth of what we write?
Different perspectives
Consider the phrase: ‘High profits and property prices are good for the economy’. This represents mainstream journalistic bias since it disallows the possibility of any disaffection from accepted political norms within a capitalist context. What is ‘good for the economy’ is identified with what is good for the owners of the mainstream media and their chums – the parasitic minority. To the majority the statement means a higher rate of exploitation at work and yet another barrier to finding a place to live. Can both perspectives be simultaneously true?
Different perspectives of the same phenomena can result in opposite interpretations and conclusions. Can ‘what is good for the economy’ be bad for those who make it work? Is the truth or otherwise of all political statements dependent on this type of class perspective? Then consider this statement: ‘Capitalism can only work in the interests of the capitalists and against the economic interests of the majority’. This claim would seem to be above and outside the political context that defines class perspective. It claims a more objective and historical account of an economic relationship. But is it true?
You will never read such a statement within the mainstream media for reasons that are self evident. They cannot claim that: ‘Yes it is true that the system makes the rich richer and the rest are unimportant’ even if they know this to be the case. Perhaps this is one of many important distinctions between our ‘propaganda’ and that of those who defend the capitalist system; everything we write we believe to be true but, given that not all of our opponents are just plain stupid, it is very hard to believe that they can have any faith in the integrity of what they write. One always suspects that they smile privately about their own cynicism in protecting their interests at every opportunity; from the persecution of the poor to the ridiculous claim that the rich exist because ‘they work hard’ or are ‘geniuses at innovation’.
Another criticism that socialists encounter is that truth is said to be never ‘black and white’ and that our uncompromising political stance is impractical and sectarian. To compromise does have a reassuring mature patina to it but if we are correct that capitalism in all its forms is diametrically opposed to the majority’s economic interests what is it exactly that we’re supposed to compromise on? The Left regard it as a victory if they are allowed to collect a few more crumbs from the rich man’s table (minimum wage etc.). But if a person steals your wallet and returns it minus two thirds of its content then it is still reasonable to regard them as thieves.
For over a hundred years the Left has made one compromise after another and what has it to show for all their boot-licking reforms – people in higher debt, later retirement, low wages, family breakdown, trade union enfeeblement etc., etc. Just as Oliver Cromwell allowing compromise after compromise with Charles I in his feeble bourgeois attempt to keep his king on the throne led to just more bloodshed so we have reached an historical situation where compromise is seen as weakness and is politically pointless. The story of the frog and the scorpion comes to mind: the scorpion asked a frog to give him a ride on his back so that he could cross the river. The frog said ‘but you’ll sting me and we’ll both die’. The scorpion made a solemn promise he would not do so and the frog took him. Halfway across the scorpion stung him. As they both sank to their deaths the frog asked: ‘why did you do that?’ The scorpion replied: ‘It’s in my nature’. So it is with capitalism; any attempt at compromise and reform will just prolong the world’s agony. In this respect the truth is ‘black and white’ and no pleading with the beast will make it any greyer.
The witness’ oath: ‘I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ may be a very high and even unobtainable ideal in political terms but any compromise in aspiring to it must lead to a loss of moral integrity. All we can promise you is that everything we write is done in good faith with the single aim of revealing the truth about the politics of capitalism and the meaning of socialism. We have no other agenda. If ‘truth’ is regarded as anachronistic by some intellectuals then so be it – we believe that the complexity of a concept does not necessarily render it useless. We live in a world of political spin, half-truths, marketing and lies.
Socialism is not just another political commodity that we are trying to sell. Superficially it may appear to the politically naïve as just another leftist variation swamped by so many other groups misusing the term ‘socialist’. In the end perhaps we can only glimpse parts of the truth, but to ignore the concept entirely is to flirt with the disaster of Orwellian ‘business speak’ where: ‘War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength’.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Socialism or Your Money Back (2004)

From the Socialist Party of Great Britain website:

The first issue of the Socialist Standard appeared in September 1904 as the “official organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain”. The Socialist Party, or SPGB, had been founded in June of the same year by ex-members of the Social Democratic Federation dissatisfied with its lack of internal democracy and with its policy of pursuing reforms of capitalism instead of concentrating on campaigning for socialism.

For them, the sole aim of a socialist party ought to be Socialism, defined as a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by and in the interest of the whole community. They took the view that such a society could only be brought into being through the political action of the working class, as the class of those compelled by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary, when a majority of them had come to realise that they were living in an exploitative, class-divided society and that their interest lay, as the exploited class, in converting the means of production into the common property of society under the democratic control of all the people.

With this approach, and knowing that a majority of their fellow workers were not class conscious in this sense, the members of the new party saw their main task as to propagate socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. To this end they ran street corner meetings, held public lectures, organised education classes, debated against other parties, contested elections, handed out leaflets, sold pamphlets-—and produced the Socialist Standard.

The Socialist Standard has appeared every month since September 1904, analysing contemporary political, economic and social events and expounding aspects of socialist theory such as Marxian economics and the materialist conception of history. As such its back numbers are an invaluable source of historical material about the period in which they appeared. They also provide a running commentary from a socialist point of view on the key events of the twentieth century as they happened.

Because the Socialist Standard was aimed at the average literate working man and woman—for most of its existence its main outlet was sales at public meetings—it was written in an accessible style that has been compared to popular science writing. In fact, this was essentially how its writers—all of them writing in their free time out of conviction—saw what they were doing. The articles were signed, but discreetly, as the writers were regarded as expressing the view of the party not a personal view.

To mark the centenary of its foundation and of its monthly journal, the Socialist Party is publishing this selection of articles from the Socialist Standard over the last hundred years. Only 69 of the well over ten thousand that must have appeared over the period have been chosen. A choice of what type of article to put in had to be made and it was decided that the articles should be what the Socialist Standard said at the time about the key events in the century that most people will have heard of—such as the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the first Labour Government, the General Strike, to go only as far as the 1920s. The articles have been grouped by period, with a short modern introduction.

Inevitably, other types of article had to be omitted, such as basic statements of the case against capitalism or for socialism (interesting as it would have been to compare how this was expressed over the decades) and theoretical articles on aspects of socialist theory (which could have provided material for a separate book—the Socialist Standard had plenty to say on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg, Daniel De Leon, Lenin, Trotsky and the others as well as on anarchism and syndicalism).

Also having to be omitted are all but two of the articles, which began to appear with increasing regularity from the 1970s onward, dealing with some of the practical aspects of how a socialist society—as a democratic society and one with no buying and selling or money—could function and orient the production and distribution of wealth to meet people’s needs. Excluding such articles was a difficult decision, especially as the Socialist Party is particularly proud of the fact that one of the things we have succeeded in doing over the past hundred years has been to have kept alive the original idea of what a socialist society was to be—a classless, stateless, frontierless, wageless, moneyless society, to define it somewhat negatively, or, more positively, a world community in which the natural and industrial resources of the planet will have become the common heritage of all humanity, a democratic society in which free and equal men and women co-operate to produce the things they need to live and enjoy life, to which they have free access in accordance with the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

A hundred years ago, when the Socialist Party was formed, there was widespread agreement that this was what Socialism meant, despite disagreements as to how to get there. Unfortunately, as a result of the failure in the intervening period of both gradualist reformism and Leninist dictatorship this is no longer the case. Reformists, who believed that capitalism could be gradually transformed through a series of social reform measures into a better society, themselves ended up being transformed into routine managers of the capitalist system. The Bolsheviks, who seized power as a minority under Lenin and Trotsky in Russia in 1917, ended up developing capitalism there in the form of a state capitalism under a one-party dictatorship. Both failures have given socialism a quite different—and unattractive—meaning: state ownership and control, even state dictatorship, which is what, as the Socialist Standard was pointing out even before both policies were tried, is more properly called state capitalism.

This has been represented as the “failure of socialism”. But socialism in its original sense has never been tried. If those who are committed to the interest of the majority class of wage and salary earners and who want a better society to replace capitalism are not to make the same mistakes of reformism and minority revolution that dominated radical thinking and action in the twentieth century, they need to return to the original idea of socialism and to the understanding that the quickest way to get there is to campaign for Socialism directly and as a matter of urgency. This book is aimed at contributing to that understanding.


May 2004

WHAT A WASTE! (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much has been written and said about the problem of waste — savings which could be achieved, environmental problems alleviated.

The solutions advanced by different factions are often valid in themselves. However, each pre-supposes the co-operation of a number of parties with different, or even conflicting interests which, under capitalism, is only possible in a very limited way. Also, it is necessary to define what we mean by waste, as savings in one respect can mean waste in another; savings on raw materials often means waste of manpower. Saving of energy may be costly in cash terms; the often invoked re-cycling leads to waste of energy and manpower. It is the intention of this article to illustrate some of these contradictions.

Mr. Giles Shaw in a debate on waste in the House of Commons on 5 April 1974 stated that in the generation of electricity from coal 40 per cent. of the heat is lost. Of every million tons of coal burnt, the equivalent of 400,0000 tons produces warm air and steam dissipated in the environment. Mr. Hugh Rossi, in the same debate, told the House that in Dusseldorf a new incinerator disposes of the refuse of 700,000 people, making a profit by the sale of steam for space heating and the use of ash for land filling.

Much was heard recently about the Friends of the Earth who collected empty pop bottles and, in protest against the bottles, not being re-cycled, dumped them on the doorstep of the firm well-known from their advertisements as "SCH . . . " Speaking at a conference War on Waste, Mr. Ron Cook, Marketing Manager of United Glass, warned that while glass can be re-used the process can result in waste of petrol, labour and energy. But in Kansas it has been found profitable to build several miles of State highway using glass waste as aggregate.

Mr. Shaw, in the previously mentioned debate, also said that, of 17 million tons [of] household waste, 85 per cent. is dumped. Indignant people write to newspapers complaining that Local Councils show little interest in their efforts to save paper etc. To them it is a straight forward issue and the complications imposed by capitalism escape them. The re-cycling of paper which could save raw materials will mean transportation, sorting and storing involving costs which sometimes outweigh the original savings. The removal of labels, adhesive tape etc. from polythene and cans, for example, may cost more than the saving on raw materials. The cost to Local Councils of doing this cannot be offset by savings achieved by manufacturers and the people who write letters would probably be the first to complain of 1p on the rates to pay for reclamation.

Excessive packaging has also come under fire, yet here the issues are often even more complicated. Many products packed in aerosol cans would be less convenient in any other way. So, if you want the product, the basic oncost of, say, 5p, is inevitable. However, to make the product stand out from those of his competitors, the manufacturer may use a special-shape can and closure. These raise the cost of packaging to between 8p and 10p. The gimmick in no way improves the product, but the customer pays the price to keep the manufacturer in business.

Often criticisms of apparently wasteful food packaging ignore the extra protection and convenience. However, here too it is true, particularly with confectionary and toiletries, that materials are often used vastly in excess of the needs of protection and distribution so that the package may shout 'Buy ME!'

In this article we have shown a few of the many-sided problems of waste under capitalism. The criticism is often levelled at the Socialist Party of Great Britain that the complexities of modern life make the workings of Socialism impossible. Here is one aspect where we can state categorically that Socialism will be easier to administer than the present system. In a world of common ownership, with the elimination of cost and profit considerations, the disposal (or reclamation) of waster, of whatever kind, will be simpler and more efficient than it is to-day.
Eva Goodman

London Meeting: 'Some Ideological Obstacles to Social Change to Socialism' (a talk by guest speaker) (2015)

A talk by Yehudi Webster (Guest speaker from the U.S.)

Sunday, 1 November at 3pm

The Socialist Party's premises,
52 Clapham High Street,
London SW4 7UN

Yehudi Webster is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Los Angeles. He is currently teaching and lecturing at Lodz University under the auspices of the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. His topic will be New Approaches to Black History.

Professor Webster joined California State L.A. faculty in 1984. He received a M.S. in political economy from Warsaw University, Poland, an M.A. in Soviet studies from the University of London, England, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Warwick University, England. His interests and specialisations include philosophy, reasoning in social sciences, critical thinking, gender, racial, ethnic, and human perspectives on society. He has delivered numerous keynote addresses and conducted international workshops on these subjects. He also the author of two books: Against the Multicultural Agenda: A Critical Thinking Alternative (1997) and The Racialization of America (1992).

Yehudi will address the claims that 'human nature', scarce natural resources, the necessity of money for rational allocation of resources, the collapse of the Soviet 'experiment', and the un-avoidability of violence for governance, all make socialism impossible or Utopian.

Defending Modernism? (2005)

Book Review from the May 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? by Frank Furedi, Continuum, 2004
Frank Furedi takes the opportunity in this book to rail against the modern 'cultural elite' and their 'dumbing down' of political, educational and artistic standards.He forcefully argues that an all pervading desire for 'inclusivity' leading to the flattery of interest groups - has replaced more hard-headed conceptions of scientific rigour, critical thought and above all, standards, as the driving force for decision makers in the modern world. Today, he argues, participation (or the appearance of it) is seen as the key issue, while the role of the 'intellectual', as arbiter of taste, independent critical analyst and robust generator of original ideas, has been compromised and diminished.

This is interesting and provocative, particularly as Furedi - currently Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent - is better known as the leading theoretician of the Trotskyist political current which called itself the Revolutionary Communist Party until a few years ago, notable for their annual 'Preparing For Power' conferences and their glossily superficial Living Marxism magazine. That his views now seem to have more in common with those routinely expressed in the opinion columns of the Daily Telegraph clearly isn't something he feels the need to apologise for. Strangely enough, Mick Hume, the erstwhile editor of Living Marxism (or 'LM' as it became, in a needless concession to the postmodernist culture and 'dumbing down' Furedi now ironically rails against), happens to be a broadsheet columnist spouting similar views to Furedi himself. This does nothing to diminish the prevalent view on the British left that their organisation was a rather bizarre cross between a cult and a sect with a tendency to say anything controversial if it could get them some media attention.

For all that, Furedi's book is well worth reading. He is a thought-provoking writer and something of a critic of the present 'postmodern condition', where everything seemingly has a value of some sort and banality is elevated into an art form, where science and reason are merely another perspective on the world, and where all attempts at fundamentally changing society are doomed to failure, are dangerous - or both. Here he is tilling fertile ground, and his writing is stimulating and energetic.

A large part of the book focuses on the way in which public policy in the major capitalist states is currently using 'inclusivity' and 'widening access' as bogus ways of enfranchising the disenfranchised, whether it be in political life, the arts, or Higher Education. This involves the recognition and flattery of 'identities' (ethnic, gender, sexual, national) and the promotion of the idea that everyone creates even if some of Furedi's hobby-horses lead him astray periodically.  instance, For the current agenda for 'widening access and participation' in HE is little to do with abstract social engineering but the response of successive governments to the demands of the labour market, including the demands of employers for more vocationally-focused university courses and for the creation of intermediate awards like Foundation Degrees. Indeed, this seems an odd point to need to make to someone who has spent most of his life calling himself a Marxist.

Furthermore, even if Furedi is a half-decent sociologist he is certainly not much of an educationalist, as his comments on modern methods of teaching and learning, accreditation of prior learning and other issues tend to show, for here he is unreliable and his approach lacks the type of rigour and engagement with serious study he otherwise insists on. But where Furedi's book misses the mark most noticeably is in his defence of the 'intellectual' as embodying everything that was good about Enlightenment ideals and modernist conceptions of progress. This is a partial, one-sided analysis and it is tempting to suspect that what Furedi really wants to defend is modernism, science and rationality itself against postmodernism, relativism and our seemingly irrational age.

But this has already been done by others quite recently, such as by Francis Wheen, so Furedi has cast around for a new angle that only serves to distort the picture, robbing it of clarity.

Society doesn't need a new phalanx of intellectuals at all, it needs a reaction against reaction and a confidence that humankind generally can look beyond the fragments of the postmodern condition and collectively work towards a vision of how the world ought to be.

Dave Perrin

What makes a socialist? (1996)

From the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are not fabricated. They are people who have reached a state of understanding about the society they live in, known as capitalism, and all its attendant problems and iniquities. Out of understanding arises the desire to forge an alternative, a new society free society from poverty, oppression, war, apathy . . . So what does make a socialist? What makes a mind reject the disreputable and repugnant basis of capitalism and opt instead to follow the course of sanity and logic in committing itself to the ideal of socialism? So let's hypothesise for a moment.

Let's take the case of a young person, newly enfranchised, who in 1983 decides to vote Conservative. Within the narrow scope of capitalist thinking this may seem to be a sensible option, the Tories ostensibly being the party most likely to run the economy efficiently, with their free-market philosophy and sound business policies. Labour of course are simply out to disrupt industry and nationalise anything that isn't growing wild, and on top of that they're in the pocket of the unions.

So our new voter is quite happy with his choice, apart from one or two niggling doubts. Being a fair-minded person, he is perturbed at the great variations in the amounts of wealth that accrue to different levels of society, but of course enterprise and hard work are always rewarded.

The miners' strike
Then in 1984, comes the miners' strike, the last great showdown between organised labour and the capitalist establishment. Our voter is partisan, and condemns the reckless behaviour of the striking miners while praising the actions of the strike-breakers. The strikers have of course been duped by NUM leader Scargill's spurious claims of a few pit closures; the idea that the government had any plans for the decimation of the coal industry was of course preoposterous.

Then comes a turning point. Our voter (who let's say lives in a coal-mining area which is fully in support of the strike) is involved in a discussion about the strike between a few colleagues at work. One of the contributors, a union representative, defends the strikers against criticism regarding tactics used against the police. He points out that with the threat of pit closures the dispute differs from many others because it is an attempt to defend the livelihood of miners and their families, and to protect the communities they live in.

If there can ever be an equivalent for an atheist of "seeing the light", then this is it for our voter. he begins to realise that his support for the Conservative Party is misplaced, and to think that only the unions and the Labour Party will fight for his interests. Having diverted his thinking on to a new track, he begins to ask more and more pertinent questions, the principal one being "why do we need money?" Why indeed. It is gradually becoming clear that society isn't merely flawed, it is utterly insane and full of paradoxes. Our voter concludes that money has become a barrier to equal and free distribution of wealth. Why else would there be people starving when the EC destroys or stores food it can't sell? Why else are there unemployed builders and yet thousands of homeless people? Why are people dying of curable diseases when there are ample resources and workers to help the,?

Our voter, now turned sceptic, hasn't quite arrived at the answer to these questions, and in the meantime inquires about joining the Labour Party. Fortunately before he does so, he spots a small advertisement in the back of a magazine. The advertisement is offering free literature published by an organisation unknown to our sceptic—the Socialist Party. He replies to the ad, and is astounded to find that the ideas espoused by the Socialist Party precisely coincide with conclusions he has reached independently.

That is but one example of how a person may become a socialist. As you've probably guessed, the story is not hypothetical; it was my own experience. I thought it worth recounting here to demonstrate that even someone as dogmatic as an electronic rottweiler can grow to understand what and who is really calling the shots in our lives.

Hope and understanding
What really makes a socialist is not wool (thought wool is often applied in the visual region to deceive us), or indoctrination, or deception, or proselytisation. The making of a socialist can be attributed only to the utilisation of one of the most fundamental faculties of the human brain: the ability to reason—to ask "why?" Why do things have to be this way? And by simply asking the question, you have already partly answered it: things are the way they are not because it is unavoidable but because we, the dispossessed working class, allow them to be.
Nick Brunskill