Saturday, July 25, 2015

Marie Stopes, Reformer (1973)

From the October 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are no good or bad reforms. Some people believe there are bad and good reformers. A prototype of the former might be, say, David Lloyd George. Cynical, ruthless, utterly venal and depraved, be actually told the House of Commons during the first World War that he could have put one million more men in the trenches by 1916 if it bad adopted his Health Insurance Act in its entirety in 1911. 

Another such slick operator was the Labour Party's Herbert Morrison, who knew very well what it was all about, but chose to kid the voters that the London Transport Act was "an installment of Socialism". On the other side of the coin, our admiration is often asked for the genuinely sincere and self-sacrificing idealist who, consumed by the justice or logic (apparent) of some proposal, devotes his or her life to its implementation. Such a one was undoubtedly Marie Carmichael Stopes

Holder of practically every scholarship that could be held by a woman in this country, she went to Munich to qualify as a Doctor of Philosophy. This last was used to whip up feeling against her, exploiting anti-German prejudice in 1919-20, by Dr. Halliday Sutherland, author of the book Birth Control

After two unsatisfactory attempts at marriage—the first a purely platonic relationship with a Japanese professor of botany, the second with an American botanist who was incapable—she finally met and married Humphrey Verdon Roe, a partner in the Avro aircraft firm (later of Lancaster bomber fame) and therefore a wealthy man. 

Marie herself was one of the most highly qualified botanists in the world, the first woman lecturer at Manchester University, and Staff researcher into the origin of coal. In this post she was sent all over the world by the Board of Trade, receiving £600 a year (£200 more than an MP in those days), and was the author of twenty-five volumes of data on her subject. After the second marriage disaster she went to Northumberland, and started in 1914 the first rough draft of the book which four years later outraged the Catholic Church, "startled the world", and precipitated a libel action which lasted six months and went to the House of Lords. 

Its title was Married Love. What was the main simple proposition which so upset people, especially men? The idea Marie put up was that women also could, and should, enjoy sexual intercourse; that they couldn't if they were terrified most of the time that it would result in another unwanted baby; that marriages could not be happy under those circumstances and that if women could be protected against incessant pregnancy by contraception, marriages would last and be successful. 

The book was a bombshell. Twenty-eight editions, translated into thirteen foreign languages; beautifully written, with a delicacy even her detractors could not deny. Marie rapidly discovered that she had lifted the lid of a seething cauldron. Letters poured in, in thousands, from unhappy wives (and husbands). So much so that a second book Wise Parenthood; dealing more fully with the mechanics of birth control, was issued — with the same success. 

Now Marie, with her husband, who supported her ideas quite independently and could finance her, took the step which to the Catholic Church was the last straw. Like all good reformers, they decided to do something "practical". They rented a small house in the slums of Islington in London and opened the first free birth-control clinic. No fees were charged, no inquisitive questions asked. Poor women came in hundreds to be fitted with the rubber check pessary which so upset Halliday Sutherland and his Church. They claimed that it was dangerous and that this woman, with a German degree, was experimenting on poor women like rabbits. 

Marie and her husband naively challenged Sutherland to debate, without result. Then, filled with indignation at the downright misrepresentation, she issued a writ for libel against Sutherland on 12th May 1922. The cream of the medical profession was called in witness, dividing itself about evenly for and against the rubber cheek pessary, But what some of the gynecologists' evidence revealed was staggering. 

There was the woman who said she was kicked downstairs "every time she announced another baby". The girl of 22 who bad had six children since 16, all aborted by her mother. The two mental defectives who had spawned ten children, all mentally or physically deficient. The dozens of couples who had been married for years without children, due to sheer ignorance of simple physical functions. 

Asked by Sir Patrick Hastings what was the object of the Society she had founded, Marie Stopes replied: 
The object of the Society is to counteract the steady evil which has been growing for many years of the reduction of the birth rate on the part of the wise, thrifty, well contented and generally sound members of our community; and the reckless breeding of the C3 end, the semi-feeble-minded, the careless, who are proportionately increasing because of the slowing of the birth rate at the other end of the scale. It was in order to try to right that grave social danger that I embarked on this work.
Is the reduction of the birth rate any part at all of your campaign? 
Not reduction in the total birth rate, but reduction in the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale.
And there you have it! Poor Marie may have been one of the world's greatest experts on coal, but she was a babe unborn in economics. Summed up, her idea was: More kids for the rich, less for the poor. 

Now, it is certainly true that the capitalists do not like a falling working-class birth rate. And when it falls they take measures to increase it, the most popular being family allowances. As reference to our pamphlet Family Allowances will show, by the simple expedient of a government grant, the wages of single childless men and women are reduced to pay a premium or bonus to those producing children. 

Dictators in the past have dramatized the situation. Stalin, by issuing a medal and a certificate to the fecund — "Mother of the Soviet Union" — while Mussolini gave the fruitful ones a suite of furniture. More practical, of course, because you can put kids to bed on a sofa but they cannot eat medals. 

Marie lost her case in the Lords, having won it on appeal. There is evidence that, like so many dedicated reformers, she was obsessed, In 1920 she had written an appeal to the Bishops' Convocation of the Church of England claiming that she was "God's Prophet". Funnily enough, the Bishops craftily adopted most of her points about marriage forty years later; while even today, exponents of the over-population theory still quote her. 

Had Marie studied economics with the avidity she displayed in botany, she might have discovered that whether the "right end" of the social scale, the wealthy, have large or small families is immaterial. What is decisive is that they have large bank balances. Nevertheless, we can remember Marie Stopes with regard for the fact that she chucked away comfort, affluence and status to fight for what she thought right, suffering abuse and punishment, She exposed the sexual subjection of working-class women, spread an enormous amount of knowledge previously proscribed; and if today millions of working-class girls are no longer as ignorant as Mum was, a certain amount of credit must go to Marie Stopes. 

Murder in Mexico: The Assassination of Leon Trotsky (1950)

Book Review from the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

On August 20th, 1940, in the suburb of Coyoacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, in a house he had transformed into a veritable armed fortress in the vain attempt to escape the long arm of Stalin, Leon Trotsky was assassinated—by a man he had trusted as a friend, and who played the part patiently for three months awaiting an opportunity to be alone with his victim just long enough to drive an ice-pick into his head. 

So perished Trotsky, the man who believed that all and every means—lying, treachery, intimidation, violence, and murder—were justified to attain the end. He died, treacherously and horribly, the victim finally of his own violent creed. 

So also, after many unsuccessful attempts, did Stalin finally settle accounts with his last and most dangerous enemy—and henceforth could sleep in peace. 

"Murder in Mexico" (published by Secker and Warburg, 236p., 9s. 6d.) is the straight and unassuming account of the events that led up to Trotsky's assassination and of the investigations that followed. The names of two authors appear on the jacket, but the main part of the book, and the most interesting and informative, is that contributed by General Sanchez Salazar, ex-Chief of the Mexican Secret Police and the one responsible for Trotsky's safety whilst he was in Mexico, as well as being the official called upon to investigate the first and unsuccessful attempt on his life in May, 1940, and the second and successful attempt three months later. 

The remainder, consisting of an introduction and three or four other chapters, is the work of Julian Gorkin, Spanish ex-Communist turned anti-Stalinist. Apart from some observations on the machinations of the O.G.P.U., later N.K.V.D., now M.V.D., and a few speculations on some of the things mentioned elsewhere by Salazar, his contributions add little to the book. Except, perhaps, one thing. This is when he calmly tells us in his introduction that the reason why many of the important documents that should have been used at the murderer's trial are missing is because he, Gorkin, has taken personal charge of them, has hidden them in a secret place where Soviet agents will not be able to lay hands on them, and is holding on to them as guarantees for the statements contained in the book! Nor is this the only strange sidelight on the ways of Mexican law and politics revealed by this somewhat unusual book. 

It is Salazar's story, however, interesting, and the one with which we are most concerned. 

Trotsky came to Mexico from Norway, after the authorities there had become so nervous of his presence in their territory and the trouble it might cause that they finally compelled him to leave. This was in 1937. 

By May, 1940, he had established himself in a house on the outskirts of the capital, Mexico City, and turned it into an armed camp. The former iron railings had been replaced by high concrete walls with towers, from which machine-guns covered the streets outside and the open spaces inside. The only door was of thick steel through the grille of which callers were first of all identified under a strong electric light. For it to be opened, the agreement of two guards was necessary. The whole house and walls were interlaced with electric wires which automatically set off alarms, warning the guards and occupants inside, and a special armed police guard outside. Trotsky himself always worked with a loaded revolver by his side. 

Yet in spite of all these elaborate precautions, Trotsky only escaped by a hairsbreadth when an attempt was made on his life in May, 1940. Early in the morning of the 24th, about twenty men succeeded in getting into the building and riddled his bedroom with machine-gun bullets, from which he only managed to escape by hiding under the bed and relying on the bad and hasty marksmanship of his attackers. It was discovered afterwards by Salazar that Trotsky had in fact been betrayed by one of bis own secretaries, an American called Sheldon, who had opened the door to his assailants and later gone off with them. Salazar then conducted an intensive hunt for Sheldon and actually found him a month later—buried in quick-lime in the garden of a lonely house some miles away from the city. Sheldon had been killed to ensure that he remained quiet. 

Salazar was still working on this case three months later when he heard that what the G.P.D. had failed to do the first time they had succeeded in doing the next—by means of one man, and not twenty. This time, Jacques Mornard, a man of many aliases, and with high recommendations from some Trotskyists in the United States, had wormed his way into Trotsky's confidence, using the additional bait that he was engaged in writing an article dealing with the splits between the various Trotskyist factions in America. Trotsky promised to look at it and give him his advice. On two occasions they went into his study to consider it. The first time was a rehearsal—the second time, Jacques Mornard, alias Jacson, alias Mercader, alias Torkof, etc., killed him. 

Although Mornard was plainly determined to kill Trotsky whatever the consequences, (when arrested be was found with a knife and loaded revolver as well as the ice-axe), he was not such a fanatic as to disregard his own life completely. That is why he left a car outside the house with the engine running, and why he used the ice-axe instead of the noisy revolver. When, however, he hit Trotsky, the latter uttered such a terrible scream that his secretaries were on the scene in a few moments, and would have battered Mornard to death had not Trotsky, though gravely injured, still possessed sufficient acuteness to tell them to keep him alive. 

After this, the rest of the book inevitably becomes something of an anti-climax, but is nevertheless extremely interesting for the light it throws on Mornard himself, his confederates, and the methods they used to achieve their aim. Mornard, for example, when arrested, had a prepared "confession" in his pocket in which, of all things, he posed as a disillusioned Trotskyist! 

The two other main conspirators succeeded in getting away. One was never found. The other, a well-known Mexican artist called Siqueiros, was arrested by Salazar, but eventually escaped as a result of some strange, and not wholly explained jiggery-pokery in Mexican high circles. As for Mornard, he is still serving his twenty-year sentence (the maximum penalty under Mexican law). Until 1947, his was a life of luxury. He wanted for nothing, and everything possible was done to make him comfortable. No expense was spared—good food, wines, the best cigarettes, radio, an excellent library—all were his. So scandalous did the abuses become that the Mexican Government was eventually compelled to take action. When they did so, they found that the Prison Secretary was a Communist, and the Chief of the Prison Delegation, to whom be was responsible, was another. These were both dismissed, and some of Mornard's privileges taken away from him, but from all accounts he is still enjoying a fairly easy time. 

When be comes out of prison—what then? Perhaps, as he has kept his mouth shut so far, nothing will happen to him. Perhaps, on the other band, just to be on the safe side, somebody will put a bullet through his head as happened to Sheldon. We wonder. No doubt Mornard, locked away in bis cell in Mexico City, sometimes wonders too. 

The above, briefly, is the bare bones of Salazar's story. For the flesh and blood you will have to read the book. It is well worth reading, not, be it remembered, because it is a work of monumental importance to the Socialist movement, but simply because it is a light, readable, well-authenticated account of an event which, although of little importance in itself to the struggle for Socialism, is nevertheless something upon which Socialists may find it useful to be informed. And if, in addition, it reads as easily and as interestingly as any good detective novel, well—who would complain about that? 
Stan Hampson

Massacre of fruit (1972)

From the October 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Next time you pay 3p. (at least) for a peach, remember that the sight of a tractor crushing huge mounds of these plump, juicy fruits prior to their mass burial is boringly familiar to those who live in the "California of Europe", Italy's main fruit-growing area in the Romagna. 

We all know, of course, from those regular newspaper reports and prompt television documentaries that the practice is not confined to this area of Italy, or even of Europe. But this year's slaughter of unmarketable fruit threaten to assume vaster, even more unimaginable proportions than in the past. Last year's figures of several hundred thousand tons of peaches, pears and apples destroyed may well look small when this season's wastage is revealed. 

Even more dramatically, figures of "slaughtered" fruit only represent a small proportion of all the fruit actually "withdrawn from sale". The rest of it is used mainly for fruit juices, wine-making and animal feed (although the animals obstinately refuse to understand that peach stones are for spitting out not swallowing and that they are not supposed to turn their noses up at regular feed when the seasonal supply of succulent pears runs out). 

EEC Policy 
When membership of the Common Market guaranteed Italian farmers markets and high fixed prices for all the fruit they could produce, fruit growing underwent an Eldoradan boom from one end of the peninsula to the other. As was to be expected however, the mad scramble for sales and profits quickly subordinated quality to quantity with the result that Italian fruit soon developed a reputation for being second best to more tasty varieties produced in other parts of the world. So when unpalatability plus inefficient and over-bureaucratic distribution methods caused sales to drop, the EEC authority was forced to step in and in accordance with their price-fixing agreement to buy up the 'surplus' and put it to the 'uses' described above. 

They could not (and cannot) allow it to be released for sale at rock-bottom prices, as the immediate effect, of this would be to competitively force down the price of other fruit on the market and hit the farming profits they are in business to support. 

Don't Give it Away 
But why, instead of destroying the surplus fruit, don't they distribute it free to the wide areas of the world which have food shortages and malnutrition as a permanent problem? Low quality food, after all, is better than no food at all and such a practice could scarcely have a direct effect on market prices in the countries where the fruit is actually sold. They don't, quite simply because the expense involved in such a procedure would exceed the cost of allowing the unsaleable fruit to be grown and then destroying it. Besides a solution like this would be entirely unacceptable to the governments of "shortage" countries, as free goods would constitute the most dangerous kind of competition to goods being sold on the market there. And who knows, apart from the damage to these countries' economies (i.e. the profit prospects of those owning and controlling the means by which commodities are produced), a taste of free access, even on such a limited scale, might cause highly inconvenient social unrest? 

So with production and distribution tied to the need to maximise profit, such a method of disposing of "surplus" goods is right out. In our present worldwide system of buying and selling human need is a poor match for market demand, that is, need backed up by ready cash. 

Italian fruit, French vegetables, Common Market milk and butter, British eggs and potatoes, Canadian wheat and Japanese rice. It's the same depressing and wasteful story the earth over (including no doubt, if information were released, Russia with its so-called "planned" economy). And nothing on earth can be more anarchical and anti-social than a system which dumps and destroys all it cannot sell at a profit. What but working-class ignorance and inertia stand in the way of a society which would plan its resources rationally for the satisfaction of worldwide human needs? 
Howard Moss

Marx and the Anarchists (1980)

Book Review from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx and the Anarchists by Paul Thomas (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980) £15.00.

This excellent book is a running commentary on Marx's fierce battles with crackpots he regarded as disasters to the socialist movement: the anarchists Max Stirner, P. J. Proudhon and Michael Bakunin. One of its principal merits is that it debunks, with the support of voluminous and correctly interpreted quotations, the idea that Marx was a dogmatic old bully, hopelessly impatient and irritable with anyone who dared to dissent from his views.

Stirner's sole claim to fame is his book, The Ego and his Own, which was purported to be a rebellious challenge to all the established institutions but is actually a pathetic rehash of Hegelian idealism. The greater part of The German Ideology, Marx and Engels' "settlement" with German philosophy, consists of the reply to "Saint Max", as they called him. Proudhon wrote so much, with so many contradictions, that it is impossible to list them all. Suffice it to say that one keen observer (Albert Hirschmann) has pointed out that Milton Friedman's arguments today were originally put forward by Proudhon in the 1840s. Bakunin was opposed to writing, on the grounds that "action", not books, was necessary (although he did write a partly autobiographical work, and the short God and the State).

All three anarchists did immense harm to the socialist cause, Stirner, with his ridiculous "personal rebellions", opposed any form of organisation or educational work, as did Bakunin and Proudhon. The latter spread more confusion than anybody in France, with his opposition to strikes, trade unions and political parties; while Bakunin succeeded in having the First International dissolved by Marx's supporters rather than allow it to be turned into a terrorist conspiracy practising robberies and assassinations. Each one of them extolled the virtues of the criminal lumpen-proletariat who, they claimed, were the real "rebels" because they had "nothing to lose"; Bakunin went so far as to advocate arson, brigandage and burglaries.

No supporter of the Socialist Party of Great Britain who reads the book can fail to be struck by the correspondence of Marx's replies to these anarchists with our Declaration of Principles. (For example, Marx's reference to the "parliamentary idiocy" of the German workers' movement in 1879: "The point was not to pursue the franchise as though it were a Workers' Holy Grail, but to transform it from the institute of fraud . . .  into an instrument of emancipation", p, 345.) Thomas also shows that, on the questions of democracy and working class understanding Marx shares our, and not Lenin's view: "We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves" (1879).

Marx held that, on every count, political action was the "first duty" of the working class. This book makes clear his views on dictatorship and democracy; the transformation of the State apparatus; the necessity of working class knowledge; the indispensability of trade unions; and the transformation of working class mentality. Above all, however, it documents his insistence on the need for a working class political party active in the struggle for socialism. It remains to add that, whether Marx considered it imperative or not, it happens to be right.