Monday, July 20, 2015

Jesus Christ super myth (1980)

From the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers must one day learn to believe in themselves. That they can really make a new and better world. And that nobody else can do it for them. Many still believe that Christ will do it for them if they believe hard enough. Well, if it's silly to believe in men who did exist, what price believing in one who didn't?

The Socialist Standard does not normally use up its space on articles about dim religious figures from the murky past and in general readers can find out all they need to know from the "professional" anti-religious papers such as the New Humanist. (There was also, a few years ago, a very convincing article by, of all people, the Tory historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper in, of all papers, the Spectator. No doubt both papers would supply cuttings from their libraries to anyone interested enough to ask.) ) But briefly, the main arguments against the legend of Christ are as follows.

First and foremost is the total lack of any authentic reference to this alleged individual among all the contemporary writers and historians (and there were quite a number whose works have come down to us from that era of the Roman Empire). Just imagine—here is a chap who had no father—his mum was far too pure to allow any man to do anything so disgusting as copulate with her. (There was a boy friend called Joseph knocking about, it seems, but I suppose he knew it was no use trying—or maybe he just did not fancy her.)

Having made his entry into this vale of tears in such an odd way, clearly there could be no stopping Jesus afterwards. He seems to have been apprenticed to a chippy but we are not told if he was any good at it though in view of what he achieved later, to produce some smashing tables and chairs he would only have had to scratch his left ear.

Be that as it may, he spent his time going around doing odd parlour tricks like walking on water, feeding a multitude with a mere handful of loaves and fishes, making the blind see and the lame to walk and—my next trick is impossible—even raising a bloke called Lazarus from the dead (I don't know if he is still alive or whether he died next time for keeps).

And he caused such a deal of bother in a Roman province called Judea that the governor, name of Pontius Pilate, was actually moved to wash his hands which must have been an unusual thing to do in those dirty days.

Now isn't it puzzling that all this was going on and the contemporary historians never said a dicky bird about it? It is indeed so puzzling that the Christian fathers, long after the events took place (or did not take place) realised they were on a loser if they didn't do something about it. So being first class frauds and villains (just like our own bishops and popes), they solved the problem thus: There was a famous contemporary historian called Josephus who was a baptised Jew living in Rome who wrote a very important book called The History of the Jews. And—hocus pocus!—there appeareth a passage in the book telling us all about Jesus. Only one little problem remained. The passage never appeared in the book while Josephus was alive. He somehow remembered to put it in centuries after his death. In other words, the only evidence in favour of the historicity of Christ is a blatant piece of Christian forgery.

You can add other morsels if you like to bother. For example, why did Jesus himself leave no written material of any kind? We have lots of material from even more ancient societies in the civilised Middle East. Surely daddy must have taught Jesus to write as well as walk on water? Finally, in case anyone says: what about the gospels? Well, what about them? The earliest was written nearly a century after Christ had died (or not died) on the cross—a fate that occurred to lots of people in those days, including others of the numerous messiahs knocking about.

At least far fewer people believe in Christ nowadays so there is some sign of progress. How about stopping believing in the likes of Jesus Wedgwood Benn or the Virgin Mary Thatcher?
L. E. Weidberg

Amin, Africa and the World (1976)

From the September 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The way to stop understanding of events is to show them as resulting from personal misconduct or mismanagement by those in charge. Had Hitler not been mad and bad, the Second World War would never have happened. Stalin's treacherousness made Russia what it is. But for a succession of weak and untrustworthy leaders, the Labour Party would have brought us all to the Promised Land. This view of history means we are perpetually invited to look at figures idiotic and corrupt, and put all the blame on them. Without doubt they are all as objectionable as stated, but that is not the answer. The high chairs in which these characters sit are provided by capitalism, and at some time of need each appeared to be the ideal occupant.

The special place of buffoon-turned-villain is held at present by President Amin of Uganda. Since his regime began it has been characterized by killings, culminating in the "Makerere massacre" of over 100 students in August this year. It has included the deportation of Asians in 1972, and a series of international incidents; in July there was a confrontation with Kenya, and on the 28th July Britain broke of diplomatic relations with Uganda. There have been attempts at uprisings and to assassinate Amin. On 1st August The Observer had an editorial headed "Getting rid of Amin".

The fact is that Amin's takeover in January 1971 was supported by Israel and favoured by Britain. A lengthy article in The Observer on 15th August recalled that the previous Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr. Milton Obote, had at the end of 1969 introduced a "Move to the Left" policy that was "Britain's reason for welcoming the coup d'état 13 months later". On Amin's accession, the article went on: "The British Government was delighted . . . One of Amin's first acts was to de-nationalize the British businesses taken over by Obote." Israel viewed Uganda under Amin as as an ally against the Arab states. While these relationships lasted, Amin was presented as a not-unsympathetic clown; since they were reversed, the Ugandan regime has been shown as a reign of terror.

Uganda was formerly a British protectorate, and remains part of the British Commonwealth. In the 19th century and up to World War II trade was carried on by a number of European countries and Asian traders; there were thriving cotton, coffee and timber industries, and large stocks of timber were contributed to war production for Britain. The wartime increases in world prices for cotton and coffee brought economic advances and the importation of industrial machinery and this in turn promoted ideas of nationalism. British companies still operate in Uganda — according to a report in The Times on 29th July they include Unilever and the ubiquitous Lonrho group, and subsidiaries of Grindlays, Barclays and Standard banks.

The concern with Uganda and other African states today is their relationship with the conflicting interests of the big powers. In East Africa, Somalia is backed and armed by the Soviet Union. Ethiopia is armed by America, but has officials who talk the parrot-jargon taught by Russia. In June this year the American government provided Kenya with a 44 credit for the purchase of 12 American fighter aircraft. A report in The Times on 20th July said:
In the American view, Soviet and Chinese arms supplies to the African states in recent years have completely altered the balance of power, and this must now be redeemed. Kenya is an obvious starting point.
In the week of Amin's Makerere massacre 98 men were executed in the Sudan for taking part in a revolt supported by Libya and other Arab countries (Times, 6th August) without expressions of horror from the western world.

Amin's support in finance, arms and technical personnel comes from the Arab states, particularly Libya, which is in turn supplied by Russia. In the flare-up between Uganda and Kenya it was said that neither America nor Russia wanted to see a shooting war develop in this part of Africa and had advised caution to both sides and their neighbours. Nevertheless, the balance between Africa and Middle East states and the major powers which "handle" them is like that of the Balkan states and Europe before 1914. It is absurd to imagine that this position would be different if Uganda, Libya and other states had more amiable rulers. In some cases they had different ones, who were made unacceptable by the situation instead of the opposite happening.

The continual threat of war is created by the worldwide working of capitalism. The major powers all want to exploit Africa far more intensely than was done under direct imperialism; at the same time the nationalism of the African countries provides a market for arms production. According to figures in the 1976 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the Middle East "where the arms trade had been most conspicuous" nearly 16 per cent of the region's gross product was being spent on military purposes.

The cause of war remains the same: conflicts among the capitalists of various nations over markets, trade routes and resources of production. Of course it is masked by diplomacy and and political motives. The last major war fought more or less openly for markets was World War I. The immediate factors in the modern world are control of strategic points and influence over particular sections, presented as a conflict between "ideologies". Ultimately, however, all wars are economic. The balance of power in Africa is between the growing and aspiring ruling classes of the states there, their deals for aid with bigger nations, and the bigger nations' own need for oil and minerals for commodity production.

In this balance, the grotesque Amin is entirely dependent on his sponsors. The continuation of the Kenyan oil blockade in July could have caused his downfall, and from the viewpoint of his Arab allies he is unreliable and disposable; no doubt their attitude is like Samuel Pepys's — "whether it will be better for me to have him die, because he is a bad man, or live, for fear a worse should come". Meanwhile, workers in Uganda and countless other countries not only under tyrannical regimes but have the prospect of being fodder for wars, in which the enemies are a matter of permutation. This is the result of production for profit. It does not have to go on.
Robert Barltrop

A Nobel Prize for Non-Economics (2012)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Nobel Prize for economics is not a real Nobel Prize in that it was not set up by Albert Nobel himself but only by the Bank of Sweden in 1968. It usually goes to some economist who has done research on some obscure aspect of the market economy or on some government economic policy in vogue at the time. If you read the Swedish Academy of Sciences’ reason for awarding this year’s prize to Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth you could be excused for thinking that this year was no different. According to the citation it was for having ‘generated a flourishing field of research and improved the performance of many markets’ and ‘for the practical design of market institutions’.
Actually, this just shows up how ignorant or, worse, how deliberately misleading (to create the impression that markets are eternal) is the Academy’s understanding of economics. A position shared by the Times (16 October) when it said that the winners’ ‘studies helped to improve efficiency in markets where price was not an issue.’ But a market where price is not involved is not a market. It’s an oxymoron.
What Shapley and Roth had in fact worked on was how to allocate resources to needs in a non-market context. As the Times went on to say, they worked out in theory (Shapley) and practice (Roth) how to match ‘doctors to hospitals, students to dorm rooms and organs to transplant patients,’ adding ‘such matching arrangements are essential in most Western countries where organ-selling is illegal, and the free market cannot do the normal work of resource allocation’ (like allocating organs to those who can pay the most).
Shapley is a mathematician not an economist and so not concerned with markets, while:
‘Professor Roth is regarded as an authority on a field known colloquially as “repugnance economics” – in essence, the study of transactions where the application of the price mechanism is regarded as morally repugnant, such as the sale of body parts, sperm and eggs, prostitution and even dwarf-throwing.’
So, we really are talking about a non-market way of allocating resources. As socialism will be a non-market society where the price mechanism won’t apply to anything, the winners’ research will be able to be used for certain purposes even after the end of capitalism; which is not something that can be said of the work of most winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics.
No doubt it would continue to be used to allocate organs to transplant patients and students to rooms. In fact, this last could be extended to allocating housing to people living in a particular area. While they may not get their first choice, people would get something for which they had expressed some preference and that corresponded to their needs and circumstances. It might even help answer Bernard Shaw’s question, ‘Who will live on Richmond Hill in socialism?’ Since socialism will be a non-market society the answer can’t be, as it is under capitalism today, ‘those who want to and who can afford to.’ This would not only be ‘repugnant’ but impossible.


Is the Left finished? (1990)

From the October 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

A decade ago, after the utter failure of the last Labour government, its capitulation to the IMF and its attacks on the social services, and with the mass unemployment and high inflation years of the first Thatcher administration, the position of the Labour Left was probably as strong as it had ever been. Organisations such as the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Rank and File Mobilising Committee—not to mention Militant—were able to steer the Labour Party leftwards, opening the way for the desertion of some of the rightwing with the formation of the SDP in 1981 and then, in 1983, for the presentation of Labour's most leftwing election manifesto since 1945.

By 1990 the strength and significance of the Labour Left has changed dramatically. Labour leader Neil Kinnock, the man who said that he "would keep the party unilateralist", has embraced multilateralism and taken most of the party with him. Nationalisation is seen as a relic from the party's dinosaur days, with the Policy Review document tentatively suggesting that the state's holding in British Telecom might possibly be increased from 49 per cent to 51 per cent. Tony Benn, the guru of the Left, now seems to be the forgotten man of British politics while his side-kick Dennis Skinner contents himself with the position of unofficial Court Jester to the Palace of Westminster. Gone are the heady days of those bewildering Conference resolutions calling for massive extensions of state ownership and a "fundamental shift in power and wealth towards working people and their families".

It was only a matter of time before a party as wedded to reformism as Labour would decide that all the composite resolutions in the world would not be of any use unless they were in line with what both the capitalist class and the electorate at large think and expect. The modern Conservative Party is at pains to deny that it had anything to do with the economic difficulties and industrial strife of the pre-Thatcher period. Indeed, much of its success has depended on people associating the 1960s and 70s with the Labour Party, Ted Heath, state intervention and borrowing. That Labour never really implemented a full-blooded programme for state capitalism along the Benn lines is neither here nor there—it is the association which counts.

This, combined with the general shift away from direct state ownership in the economy and from the strained East-West relations of the pre-Gorbachev period, ensured that after its initial successes the Left became isolated and ineffectual. Nationalisation was increasingly out of step with the further internationalisation of capitalist ownership and investment, while unilateral nuclear disarmament was the last thing the other NATO bloc states were looking to Britain for.

So instead of the Labour Party changing society it has been the developments in society which have served to change the Labour Party. Past Labour governments are testimony to the fact that there is nothing really new in this except for one thing—it is the first time the Labour Party has shifted its stance while in opposition. The Left are, of course, aware of this. Former MP Reg Race told a conference in May of "Labour Party Socialists" in Sheffield that the Party's new policy document:
is the most right-wing document ever published by the Labour Party in opposition. Instead of shedding its socialist policies in power, Labour has performed its policy U-turn before the election.
The prospect for state capitalism and its supporters looks fairly grim. The tide of history would appear to have done the Left a disservice. However, the Left have never been slow to cash in on the failings of other reformers and there is no reason why they shouldn't do so again. Now that Neil Kinnock and the Shadow Cabinet have openly fallen in love with the market, their election to office may well give the Left the fillip it needs. Labour's inevitable failure to solve the major problems facing the working class would provide the Left with the chance to re-establish themselves as serious contenders within the realm of capitalist politics. After all, nothing breeds discontent like failure—especially repeated failure. Indeed, one delegate at the Sheffield conference is reported to have stated that:
They want to do nothing about the economy. We will not win the vote at the [Labour Party] Conference, but the failure of that policy after the election will provide us with the opportunity. (Guardian, 21 May).
State intervention and capitalism
There is something else which may also serve to benefit the Left in the longer term. Even though nationalisation and other traditional forms of state intervention have been on the retreat in much of the developed world, there is no reason to assume that they will be of no use to the capitalist class for ever more.

Politicians such as Tony Benn have long argued that the financial scandals to which the City and private enterprise are prone would be remedied by a good dose of nationalisation and "workers' control" and that selective nationalisation would introduce a degree of planning into an otherwise anarchic system. Even though the Left attacks Kinnock for saying that Labour's task should be to make capitalism work better than it has under the Tories, they are in effect saying the same thing—only they have different ideas about how it can be done.

The problems of the environment are another crucial area in which the interventionism favoured by the Left may have something to offer capitalism. Even Prince Charles seems to have come to the conclusion that capitalism cannot go on as it has been doing for much longer, such is the conflict between the life-sustaining systems of the Earth and the profit motive.

Of course countries which have had state capitalism such as East Germany have long had very serious pollution, but it is difficult to see how something could be done within capitalism about environmental problems without a move towards state intervention and regulation of the operation of enterprises. The state will have to take responsibility for investment that the private sector is unwilling to provide, but which may be necessary for the interests of the capitalist class in the long run. The Green Party, which has taken on a number of the viewpoints and perspectives of the Left, pledged itself at the last General Election to "support socially useful products and services, not just commercially viable ones".

The Labour Left and the Greens start out from the same premise that the free market and uncontrolled growth are the cause of the world environmental crisis and they both say that selective state intervention and a changed system of taxation are necessary as a response. Some of these ideas may look increasingly attractive to capitalist governments in the not too distant future as a way of eliminating some of the worst effects of pollution.

Capitalism is an anarchic and unplannable system which goes its own way ignoring the requirements of billions of people. It is not therefore surprising that many set out to bring the system to heel. The Greens may have been a product of the environmental crisis, but the Labour left spring from a different tradition, one which has concerned itself with the many ways in which capitalism has shown itself to be out of control—crises and depressions, unemployment amidst poverty and need, and so on. As these features of capitalism persist, as they will, so will political groupings which have ideas to get rid of them by "planning" capitalism.

The Thatcher victory in 1979 was partly a result of the failure of the Left to plan capitalism smoothly in the 1960s and 70s. Come the next slump, Thatcher, Kinnock and the other worshippers of the market may have nowhere to run. The Labour Left may find that state intervention is on the capitalist political agenda again.

Whether or not some form of state regulation of the market economy will get its chance again will depend on the attitude of the working class—and it is up to the working class to see that one form of failure isn't replaced with a resurrected old one.
Dave Perrin

Peace, Perfect Peace! (1955)

From the October 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Story of the Nobel Peace Prize

Most people are aware of the existence of the Nobel Peace prize. They read, or hear, a news bulletin every year, giving the names of the fortunate recipients. 

Rather fewer know that the founder of this bequest was Alfred Nobel, the millionaire explosives manufacturer. In 1896,  £1,750,000 was left by him to. endow a trust fund divided to produce five prizes of about £8,000 each annually to a chosen physicist, chemist, medical man, writer and/or Pacifist who, in the opinion of the selectors, had best served the cause of peace. 

Same may find it rather surprising that Alfred Nobel, who made a fortune from war, should donate a large sum to what might be considered the pursuit of Peace. 

The facts show that, whatever his intentions, the Nobel Peace Prize has not had the slightest effect in preventing or lessening the incidence of War. Indeed, Alfred Nobel is but one of a number of paradoxical figures of this modem topsy-turvey world. 

No less so is Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize winner, who wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939 drawing attention to the power of the Atom Bomb, and urging him to set science working on it in case the Nazi's got in first; only to say afterwards that "if World War III is fought with atom-armed missiles then World War IV will be fought with clubs," and sign the famous scientists declaration with Bertrand Russell, in July 1955, predicting that radio-active dust could end the human race. 

Alfred was the second son of Immanuel Nobel, who had a small chemical works in Stockholm in the sixties of the last century.

The family managed to land a contract for the Russian Navy in the Crimean War and for mines to be sown in the Baltic. These in fact did no harm, as they never went off. 

In 1870 Alfred took over and moved to Hamburg. During this period the firm invented a powerful new explosive, which he christened "Dynamite." This material was the atomic bomb of that day, compared to kid's stuff like gunpowder. He later founded the British Dynamite Co., which made 1,000 per cent. profit in six years. 

The first dynamite weapons were shells poured into densely populated Montmartre, by the German Army during the siege of Paris, in the time of the Commune. 
"Surely," said those who witnessed the devastating power of the high-explosive shells, "this must make war impossible, for who would dare to use such a means of wholesale extermination. Fear of reprisals would prevent it." 
But fear of reprisals did not prevent it being used, among others, by the Russian Anarchists who seized the new weapon with enthusiasm, and assassinated the Czar with it. This, and a number of disastrous accidents in factories and mines, placed its manufacture and sale under control. 

Same years later, Alfred Nobel, now, like so many millionaires, lonely and thoroughly miserable, established in an office in that same city of Paris he had helped to  batter down, advertised for a personal secretary for a few days work, The advertisement was answered 'by an Austrian countess, who needed money because she had been cut off for marrying a journalist called Arthur von Suttner. Subsequently she went into exile with her husband, to the Caucasus during the Russian annexation. Her experiences there made her an ardent Pacifist. With her husband's help she published a book, in the form or a personal diary; an impassioned protest against the injustice, corruption, and bestiality of war. 

The hero of the story is a conscientious objector, who is shot by the Germans as a French spy during the 1870  war. It was called "Die Waffen Nieder", or "Lay down the Arms." The Baroness became world famous. The book rocketed through Europe. The Third World Peace Congress in Rome elected her World President. 

Previously, Nobel had told the Countess that he liked "novels with a message," "propaganda novels," so she sent him one—her own. Nobel replied that he liked the book, and sent a donation to the Peace League's funds, and a suggested "peace plan." 

By this time his Head Office was in Zurich. Baroness Bertha hurried there to try to gain his full support for the Peace League. According to Egon Larsen, from whose interesting book "Men Who Shaped the Future" (Phoenix House, London), these details are culled, the following discussion took place: 
Dr. Alfred Nobel: "Perhaps my explosive factories will end war sooner than your Congresses. On the day when two army corps will be able to annihilate each other in a flash all civilised nations will recoil in horror - and disband their armies."
"No! they will not, cried Bertha, for each of them will rely on its bigger and better bombs, each of them will try to annihilate the enemy first. We, the peoples of 'the world, must force our governments to lay down arms."
"I wish I could prove my theory to you here and now, Baroness," smiled Nobel. "I wish I could produce some material . . . some machine of terrible power of annihilation and devastation that would make wars altogether impossible."
"It would not make them impossible Mr. Nobel, that is the horrible truth we must face. People will go on slaughtering one another, and you armament kings will increase the efficiency of their arms, because that's your profitable business."
Alfred Nobel: "I don't think a mere increase in the deadliest of weapons would bring world peace, Baroness. A few more soldiers on the battlefields will die - that's all. No, I am thinking of something more efficient; weapons that will make war as deadly for the civilians at home as for the troops in the front line.
Let the sword of Damocles hang over every head and you will witness a miracle; they will all clamour for peace.
But perhaps dynamite is not sufficient to achieve that result, even if one day it will be dropped from the air on the capitals of the world. I think we need something more powerful. Perhaps war would stop instantly if that weapon were Bacteria.
And there, for the time being, the matter was left.
Subsequently, after considerable illness, Nobel wrote the following to the Baroness in November, 1895.
"I should like to allot part of my fortune to the formation of a Prize Fund. This prize would be awarded to the man or woman who had done most to advance the idea of general peace in Europe. If we have failed, at the end of 30 years, to reform the present system of international relations, we shall inevitably revert to barbarism." 
He died in San Remo in 1896. In 1953 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Sir Winston Churchill.
Horatio

Frederick Engels: A Lifetime's Service (1995)

From the August 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

1995 is the Centenary of the death of Karl Marx's friend and collaborator Frederick Engels, and Engels spent his entire adult life working for socialism. A prolific and popular writer as well as indefatigable activist and theorist, his name is justly coupled with that of his life-long friend as the originator of scientific socialism.

Engels became a Socialist (or Communist in the language of the time) earlier than Marx, in October 1842—at the age of 22—after a meeting with Moses Hess. Hess, Engels wrote a year later, was the first of the "Young Hegelians" to embrace socialist ideas, so founding a school of German "philosophical communism". 

The Young Hegelians were a group of intellectuals who gave Hegel's philosophical views a radical twist and used them to criticise the then existing political and social order. Engels associated with them when he was in Berlin doing his military service in 1841-2. 

Hegel (who had died in 1831) was a conservative who supported both Protestant Christianity and the Prussian monarchy, but as he saw the history of humanity as a progression through stages towards the goal of a free and rational society it is easy to see how his philosophical views could be given a radical interpretation, He himself saw "the end of history", or the goal towards which society had been moving throughout history, as being the Protestant monarchy; the Young Hegelians saw this as a democratic and non-religious state; Moses Hess saw it as a society of equality and common ownership, a view to which Engels, as stated, adhered in 1842 and which Marx came over to towards the end of 1843. 

Owenite Socialism 
Soon after becoming a Communist Engels went to live and work in England, in the office of the Manchester branch of the cotton-spinning firm, Ermen & Engels, in which his father was a partner. Here he encountered another group which advocated common ownership, but which had reached this conclusion by a quite different route: the Owenites or, as they called themselves, the Socialists (they in fact invented the word). 

Robert Owen, who could justly be called the father of modem, or industrial era, socialism, had developed a materialist theory of human behaviour and argued that marriage, religion and private prop­erty "together form the great trinity of causes of crime and.immorality among mankind". 

The Owenites were essentially a propaganda group carrying on agitation against this trinity. They repudiated state and church sponsored marriage for life and advocated divorce, birth control and worn en's liberation. They attacked the bible and Christianity as untrue (some from an atheist point of view, but others advocated a new "religion of humanity. They denounced private property and competitive individualism and advocated a "rational system of society" where there would be common ownership and distribution according to needs without money or buying and selling. Insofar as they did more than propagate these ideas they attempted to set up settlements in both Britain and America on communist lines. 

At this time—the early 1840s—the Owenite Socialists were the strongest they were ever to be. Their national association had tens of thousands of members they were able to open meeting places up and down the country, like the Hall of Science in Manchester. They also ran a weekly paper called the 'New Moral World' as well as publishing numerous tracts and pamphlets. Engels attended the Sunday lectures at the Manchester Hall of Science and was clearly impressed both by the hundreds of people attending but also by the quality of the lectures and discussions. There can be no doubt that, after becoming a philosophical communist under the influence of Hess, Engels learned much of the rest of his socialist ideas from the Owenites.

One obvious example is his views on marriage and women's liberation. Not only did he not believe in marriage but he did not practise it either. He and Mary Burns lived together as partners for 18 years until her death in 1863. Afterwards he and Lizzie Burns lived together as "Mr and Mrs Engels" till her death in 1878. In neither case were these relationships sanctified by the church or state (though Engels and Lizzie Burns did go through a formal marriage ceremony on her death-bed as her last wish). Marx's wife was so shocked by this flouting of bourgeois convention that she always refused to meet Mary Burns.

Engels's book on The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, published in 1884, shows an evident sympathy for the plight of women as an oppressed group, as when he describes the ending of descent through the female line and the coming of the father-dominated patriarchal family as "the world-historic defeat of the female sex", a wrong which he argued would be undone through the (re-)establishment of common ownership in place of private property. The Owenites of the 1840s would have appreciated both the book and the sentiment.

Engels contributed articles to the New Moral World from November 1843 to May 1845. He returned to Germany in August 1844 where he remained in his father's house in his home town of Barmen (near Düsseldorf in the Rhineland). Here he joined with Hess in carrying out a campaign in the area of basic socialist propaganda, i.e. straight arguments for a communist society without private property, competition, buying and selling or money. It was here too that he wrote his first book The Condition of the Working Class in England based on information he had gathered while working in Manchester and associating with the Owenites, Chartists and trade unionists of the North of England. 

Agitation for Socialism 
In February 1845 he and Hess spoke at a series of meetings in Elberfeld. At the first of these Engels began by denouncing existing society in these terms: 
In our present-day society, each man works on his own, each strives for his own enrichment and is not in the least concerned with what the rest are doing; rational organisation, or distribution of jobs, is out of the question; on the contrary, each seeks to get the better of the other, seeks to exploit any favourable opportunity for his own private advantage and has neither time nor inclination to think about the fact that, at bottom, his own interests coincide with those of all other people. The individual capitalist is involved in struggle with all the other capitalists; the individual worker with all the other workers; all capitalists fight against the workers just as the mass of workers in their turn have, of necessity, to fight against the mass of capitalists. In this war of all against all, in this general confusion and mutual exploitation, the essence of present-day bourgeois society is to be found. But, gentlemen, such an unregulated economic system must, in the long run, lead to the most disastrous results for society . . . (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vo1.4, p. 243).
Among these "disastrous results" were commercial crises. These would be impossible in a communist society: 
In communist society, where the interests of individuals are not opposed to one another but, on the contrary, are united, competition is eliminated. As is self-evident, there can no longer be any question of the ruin of particular classes, nor of the very existence of classes such as the rich and the poor nowadays. As soon as private gain, the aim of the individual to enrich himself on his own, disappears from the production and distribution of the goods necessary to life, trade crises will also disappear of themselves. In communist society it will be easy to be informed about both production and consumption. Since we know how much, on the average, a person needs, it is easy to calculate how much is needed by a given number of individuals, and since production is no longer in the hands of private producers but in those of the community and its administrative bodies, it is a trifling matter to regulate production according to needs. Thus we see how the main evils of the present social situation disappear under communist organisation. "(Marx-Engels Collected Works, p.246). 
Because he was arguing directly for Socialism Engels had to face the same objections as Socialists do today, in particular "it' s a nice idea, but it would never work". Engels chose to counter this by saying that "community of goods" and voluntary work had been tried and were working in various communistic colonies set up by the Shakers, the Rappites and others, to show that people could live in communist conditions. For his informa­tion he relied heavily on a series of articles by the Owenite John Finch which had appeared in the New Moral World between January and October 1844. Engels quoted Finch's description of how the Rappite community at Economy functioned: 
They live in families of from twenty to forty individuals, each of which has a separate house and domestic establishment. The family gets its supplies as much as it requires from the common stores. They have an abundance for all and they get as much as they wish without charge. When they need clothing, they apply to the head tailor, the head seamstress or shoemaker and are furnished with it made to their taste. Fresh meat and the other foods are divided among the families according to the number of individuals in each, and they have everything in abundance and plenitude." ("Description of Recently Founded Communist Colonies Still in Exist­ence", Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol.4, p.220). 
Engels envisaged a communist society (as opposed to a communist colony or commune) functioning on this sort of principle too. But what would be the incentive to work? Who would do the dirty work? Engels had already answered this in the first article he wrote for the New Moral World in November 1843: 
It was Fourier, who, for the first time, established the great axiom of social philosophy, that every individual having an inclination or predilection for some particular kind of work, the sum of all these inclinations of all individuals must be, upon the whole, an adequate power for providing for the wants of all. From this principle, it follows, that if every individual is left to his own inclination, to do and to leave what he pleases, the wants of all will be provided for, without the forcible means used by the present system of society. This assertion looks bold, and yet; after Fourier's mode of establishing it, is quite unassailable, almost self-evident—the egg of Colombus. Fourier proves, that every one is born with an inclination for some kind of work, that absolute idleness is nonsense, a thing which never existed, and cannot exist: that the essence of the human mind is to be active itself and to bring the body into activity; and that, therefore, there is no necessity for making people active by force, as in the now existing state of society, but only to give their natural activity the right direction. He goes on proving the identity of labour and enjoyment, and shows the irrationality of the present social system, which separates them, making labour a toil, and placing enjoyment above the reach of the majority of the labourers; he shows further, how, under rational arrangements, labour may be made, what it is intended to be, an enjoyment, leaving every one to follow his own inclinations." ('Progress of Social Reform on the Continent', Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 3, pp394-5). 
Ahead of their time 
Engels later revised his rather optimistic view of these communist-type settlements within capitalism. In 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, which he and Marx drafted, the section on "Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism" refers to "small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure", explaining this failure as being due to the fact that conditions weren't yet ripe for the establishment of socialism: industry wasn't developed enough nor was the working class. 

This left the ideas the early Socialists expressed—ideas of common ownership, voluntary work, distribution according to need and no money and no buying and selling—hanging in the air, as it were, with no material or class basis. As a result they appeared as abstract propositions unrelated to practical reality, or "utopian" in that sense. The ideas themselves, however, remained perfectly valid as a description of the content of socialism, of the features of the society workers would have to establish to free themselves from the exploitation they suffered under capitalism. 

Engels's criticism of the Utopian Socialists was not of their ideas for a new society but of the fact that these were not connected to the working class movement as a means of realising them, and in fact could not have been at the time they were first put forward in the 1820s and 1830s. As he and Marx went on to say in the same section of the Communist Manifesto
But these Socialist and Communist publications contain also a critical element. They attack every principle of existing society. Hence they are full of the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the working class. The practical measures proposed in them—such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production, all these proposals point solely to the disappearance of class antagonisms.
Although Engels was never again to enter into such detail as to what a socialist society might be like as he did in 1843-5, he never departed from this view that the classless society the working class should strive for should be a society of common ownership, democratic control, production and distribution for needs, without buying and selling, money, wages or the coercive state.
Adam Buick



Engels - what to read . . .

The Condition of the Working Class in England
Classic description from a Socialist point of view of the conditions industrial capitalism imposed on the newly-formed working class in England in the 1840s. Written in 1845 when Engels was still only 24, it was based on his first-hand experience of living and working in Manchester at the branch of his father's cotton business from 1842 to 1844.

Socialism, Utopian and Scientific
The third part of a longer work Anti-Duhring published as a separate pamphlet in 1880. The most widely-distributed of all Engels's writings and still the best introduction in the words of one of them to the social and political ideas of Marx and Engels.

Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
Another Socialist classic, published in 1884, in which Engels traces the origin both of the state as a separate coercive institution standing over the rest of society and of the patriarchal family and the subjection of women to the coming of private ownership of land and other resources and the dissolution of the communistic  conditions in which humans originally lived. The re-establishment of common ownership, Engels argues, will lead to the disappearance of the state and to the restoration of equality between men and women.

The Housing Question
Series of articles Engels wrote in 1872-3, published as a separate pamphlet in 1887, analysing typical attempts to deal with a social problem by means of reform measures within capitalism. Engels shows how such measures can never solve the problem; at best they can only relieve it temporarily, as any measure which permanently reduces the cost of living of the working class will exert a downward pressure on wage levels, so taking away with the one hand what the other had given.

Articles from the Labour Standard
Series of articles in English for a London trade-union paper in 1881, aimed at persuading English trade-unionists that pure and simple trade-unionism was not enough and that workers should also organise politically with the aim if abolishing the whole system of having to work for an employer for a wage. Still sound advice today.

Let's All Boldly Go! (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Space, the final frontier ... To boldly go where no man has gone before ..."

Many science fiction fans will be familiar with those words through the television series Star Trek, in which the phrase "the final frontier" was used to describe the conquest of space. The mysteries of space for most of us however, though a fascinating area of exploration and study, are a long way away, both physically and intellectually. Before humans are able to make a serious attempt at grappling with the mammoth technological task of crossing the vast expanses of the cosmos to other stars and worlds, they must first make an even greater and more profound journey through the real final frontier, the barrier between the last class-divided world system capitalism, and the new world-wide stateless, moneyless community of common ownership of wealth -- Socialism. Are you ready to cross the final frontier and make that long-deferred journey to the undiscovered country? 

Socialists face a similar frustration to would-be space travellers: we can see our objective, distant and enigmatic though it may be, and we can wonder at the opportunities for extending our knowledge, as well as self-awareness, that presently can only begin to be imagined, but the method of reaching our respective destinations remains a difficult nut to crack, and the solution will require a huge leap in human understanding. Socialists however can take heart in the knowledge that, unlike the space cowboys, we do not need to make an unprecedented breakthrough in overcoming the constraints of physics to allow our journey to become viable - the means already exist. 

The key to making possible the journey to that single global society to which no one has ever been but which nevertheless could exist is simply the harnessing of the power of consciousness. Socialists seek to promote the exploration of the universe of the human mind, the great constellations of imagination, co-operation, humour, affection and compassion. At the moment the human consciousness is grounded in a class-divided ghetto, confined to the tiny solar system of capitalism. 

Getting to Socialism is not merely a question of physical effort, it requires a change in thinking, in the way of perceiving society as it is presently organised, and recognising that there is an alternative. 

Socialists know that a new world of unity and co-operation can exist in the future by observing certain features in society now, such as widespread cooperation despite tremendous pressures to divide and compete, and examples of generosity and self-sacrifice that are always evident in times of crisis. 

There is no short cut. The only way to get there is for all the dispossessed and oppressed members of the human race (the vast majority) to make a conscious decision to embark on this momentous journey together. We won't be led there by politicians. Their only concern is governing their own particular countries in the interests of profit and those who benefit from that profit. Nor will anachronistic religious beliefs pave the way to a better world, with their notions of life after death and the serenity of heaven; religions only serve to mystify. Likewise, single-issue campaigns and charities, though well-meaning, are constantly running to stand still and fighting a losing battle against all manner of horrors which capitalism throws up with predictable regularity; they can only hope to desperately juggle with the inevitable problems of a society in which property takes precedence over people. 

When one becomes class-conscious however, one is able to take a step back from the petty-mindedness and the prejudice and see the world as it really is: a planet inhabited by one race but artificially divided into nations vying for markets and access to raw materials and resources, with a breathtakingly unfair distribution of wealth. Suddenly one begins to realise that one has been conned by political leaders and their economic priorities, when the real priorities are human beings and the preservation of our one and only home: Earth. Of course, it isn't easy to admit to having been conned, but the cathartic effect of cleansing the mind and replacing all the political garbage and those dangerously sharp and uneven bits of bigotry with socialist consciousness more than compensates for any embarrassment. 

Clearly, the first sign that people have boarded the consciousness vehicle is when they decide to stop giving others the responsibility for governing their lives, when faith in leaders has finally dissipated. There is a powerful incentive which must surely lead the oppressed to taking this first step, and that is the undeniable conclusion that the responsibility for the plight of the working class today lies at the door of the working class itself. It is we who not only allow a few ambitious self-serving leaders to make all crucial decisions for us, but we also allow such decisions to be made not in our class interest, but in the interest of big business and its few wealthy owners. 

When a majority becomes conscious of this, we will have embarked on the first leg of our historic journey. And when the realisation dawns that it is we who are ultimately responsible for the perpetuation of the divisive economic system that persecutes us, there is only a short distance to be travelled before arriving at the conclusion that only we, democratically and collectively, can transform capitalism into a society of common ownership and production for use. 

So to return to the original question: are you able to open your mind as well as your eyes and really perceive what is going on around you, everywhere, every day? Are you ready to climb aboard the imaginary ship we may call the Spirit of Free Thinking? Some are, but there are many who are yet to become convinced, which means that we won't be making that journey for some time. But we don't have forever to make the move, which is why socialists will urgently continue to expose the injustices of the desperate and volatile world we now inhabit, as well as insisting that there is a better world yet to be enjoyed when there is the will to go there. The event will be so sensational that it will make Neil Armstrong's "giant leap" look like a mere "small step". The ship is fuelled and ready to go as soon as humanity is; the undiscovered country awaits discovery. 
Nick Brunskill

Down Coronation Street (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

WHAT IS CORONATION STREET? A row of terraced houses, At one end is a pub called The Rover's Return where the locals spend the best part of their leisure time. The locals are our old friends; we know them better than our next door neighbours. There's Stan Ogden, the luckless window cleaner and his wife Hilda, there's Ken Barlow, the local intellectual and his Uncle Albert, there's Ena Sharples and her friend Minnie, the Langtons, the Faircloughs, Emily Bishop, Elsie Howard, Annie Walker, Alf Roberts . . . they've been there for years, every Monday and Wednesday at 7.30 p.m. We've watched their hard times, their family problems, their love affairs, their hopes and heir disappointments. We accept Coronation Street as an extension of the streets in which we live.  

CONVENIENT ENTERTAINMENT  
Coronation Street is an integral part of the culture of British capitalism. It influences the consciousness of television viewers far more than the paintings of Picasso or the plays of Pinter which fit more traditionally into the category of culture. Most of us spend a large part of our leisure time watching television; it is not surprising that it affects the way we see the world. It is fashionable to condemn workers for watching television, especially for watching soap opera like Coronation Street, Such criticism comes from those people who have the time, money and inclination to pursue what are commonly considered to be more 'cultured' pastimes. For the working class television is the most convenient form of entertainment.  

In years to come the present age will be remembered far more by the records of television than by a hundred volumes of bogus sociological jargon from academies. Fiction can tell us more about the past than records. Engels, writing to the English novelist Margaret Harckness in April 1888 says that: 
Balzac whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas past, present and yet to come, in La Comédie Humaine gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French 'society', describing, chronicle-fashion, almost year by year from 1816 to 1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeoisie upon the society of nobles, that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could, the standard of la vieille politesse francaise (old French refinement). He describes how the last 'remnants of this, to him, model society gradually succumbed before the intrusion of the vulgar moneyed upstart, or were corrupted by him; how the grande dame whose conjugal infidelities were but a mode of asserting herself in perfect accordance with the way she had been disposed of in marriage, gave way to the bourgeoisie, who corned her husband for cash or cashmere; and around this central picture he groups a complete history of French society from which, even in economic details . . . I have learned more than from all the professed historians, economists and statisticians of the period together." 
If the writing of Balzac can so realistically reflect the class struggle, what about Coronation Street? Can it be dismissed as harmless entertainment or is it politically subjective in the way that television news coverage more obviously is. To put the question in perspective let us consider two contradictory points of view on the nature of 'culture' in society. Graham Hough, writing about the rise of modernism in his Reflections on A Literary Revolution argues that 
Literature by a fortunate dispensation, does not reflect very accurately the convulsions of the social order. Its revolutions sometimes precede the social ones, sometimes fellow them. sometimes, it would seem, overlap them quite pointlessly . . .  But as soon as we begin to look closely at a particular patch of literature we are likely to see it developing according to its own principles, which have their own interest, and are likely to be at least fortuitous in their relations to the wars, technologies or movements of classes that are their temporal accompaniments. The dispensation is fortunate, for it is a happy instance of what we mean by the freedom of the spirit.
The alternative point of view is put by Allan Rodway, writing about Romantic poetry in The Romantic Conflict
Chance could hardly ordain that in England all those coming to maturity between 1789 and 1830, and possessed of poetic genius, should have been born with a romantic temperament while the genius of, say, 1689 to 1730 was born Augustan. We are force d to the conclusion that the milieu probably encouraged one type of genius and inhibited another. The art-form is inseparable from. the circumstances of the age.
Hough's view, that 'Art' is divorced from the laws of social motion is surely absurd. Ideas are social in nature; the mind could not possibly conceive an image which has no basis in society any more than the hand could touch a non-existent object. Chaucer could not have written The Canterbury Tales in Roman Britain, Shakespeare could not have written Look Back Anger, Coronation Street would have had no meaning in the Sixteenth Century. Marxists reject Hough's 'freedom of the spirit', but at the same time reject the mechanistic notion that 'Art' can only ever be between ideas and society is not always joined by a straight line for the benefit of vulgar determinists. 

To what extent does Coronation Street reflect the society in which we live? It is reflective in that it conforms to the social relationships of modem industrial capitalism: there are those who are forced to work in order to live and others — the usually unseen bosses are able to live without working — unsurprisingly the latter class are not found inhabiting the slums of Coronation Street; the characters pay for the necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter; there are women who are expected to stay at home and do housework or else find menial employment and men who are expected to be hard working, virile and socially dominant (if, like Stan Ogden, they do not exhibit these characteristics are expected to laugh at them); there are 'educated' people (like Ken Barlow) who talk about and organise things when leadership is required and formally uneducated people (like Stan or the barmaids) who know their places and can't pronounce long words; there exists an implicit hierarchy of social roles, and a natural uniformity of class position. These relationships are never challenged; they are shown to be natural.  

Drama rarely reflects what society is really like, It an idealised picture of what dramatists and their patrons (in this case the television company) want to be like. Coronation Street is not the reflection of life under capitalism, but the reflection of prejudices about life under capitalism. It is the gap between realistic reflection of human life (which is what dramatic honesty is all about) and the subtle extraction of its social consequences which makes Coronation Street a piece of political propaganda. It is a representation of capitalist society with the class struggle neatly. removed, which is about as honest as a representation of Beethoven without commenting on his music. The writers, actors, and director attempt to convey particular images of capitalism, for example that workers wear cloth caps and are basically both stupid and lazy, that women are naturally inferior to men, that nice things happen to 'good' people and 'baddies' always lose. These prejudices are not based on an objective examination of society (if they were then Socialism would be impossible and we could all retire to The Rover's Return), but on the beliefs and requirements of the capitalist ideology. The ideology of Coronation Street provides the ruling class with immense optimism - there are no Socialists down Coronation Street, not even a single looking vaguely like he could read, let alone understand, a piece of Socialist literature.  

Not that the elimination of the problems of capitalism would have any relevance to these fairy tale characters. The desire for Socialism arises out of real problems facing real workers in real life. Down Coronation Street these problems are never experienced. No unemployment, no homeless families, no battered wives and kids, no old people dying from the cold, no demands for better wages. The scriptwriters have eradicated all the problems of Jim Callaghan's England with a stroke of the pen. The only problems which exist are due to 'human nature'. Coronation Street is a capitalist's utopia: the slum paradise.  

SELF INDOCTRINATION  
Does this mean that television soap opera is merely The Epilogue in single syllables? As we settle down for our twice weekly intrusion into non-existent people's intimate affairs are we in fact pressing the button for our own indoctrinaticn? The BBC and IBA undoubtedly see it as part of their function to persuade the working class to accept certain 'virtues', such as hard work, family life, sex roles, obedience etc.  

By reinforcing popular myths Coronation Street performs an important political service to capitalism That alone does not mean that it, and television drama in general, should be ignored. Coronation Street is entertaining in a perverse sort of way — more people watch it than any other programme according to most week's audience ratings. However, we should remember Marx's dictum that the capitalist system creates its own gravediggers. It has at times used the Church as propaganda, but that has not prevented some sections of the religious establishment from pointing to the inadequacies of the system. It has used schools and Universities to inculcate its values, but within modem education there are people with unorthodox values. It has used television drama as propaganda, but to be effective the viewers have to be politically ignorant. Regular viewing of Coronation Street leads to the passive acceptance of prejudices which prevent working class consciousness. 
Steve Coleman