Monday, August 17, 2015

Ammunition from Yankee-Land. (1916)

From the October 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

An American Blatchford.
England cannot claim a monopoly of "Socialist" patriots. One of the leading types of American vote-catching "Socialist" Party men is Victor Berger, who was the lone "Socialist" elected to Congress from the city of Milwaukee in the State of Wisconsin. At the present time there is a ballot amongst the members as to whether Berger should be re-called from the National Executive of the Socialist Party of America for his stand on patriotism.

Training the Children.
Berger stated his position in the 'Milwaukee Leader," and outraged the feelings of some of the "comrades"—and to do that it must be pretty bad and rank.

Among his statements are the following:
Any man who is unwilling to fight for his class or nation does not deserve to belong to a class or nation. The "Leader," therefore, is in favour of a "preparedness" that shall unite and protect the bulk of our nation—that is the working people. . . . . This preparedness must become a part of our early education by practising calisthenics and by encouraging outdoor sports from childhood on, in order to produce healthy men and women. But this cannot be all.
National Servitude.
The more to follow that he promises is a new way of "protecting the working people." He says:
Every citizen should devote one year—between 19 and 20—to the service of his nation. The citizen—male or female—may stay at home during the time and receive for the service such pay as will be fixed by Congressional legislation. The education must be in charge of the nation and the nation must pay for it.
Such are the leaders and "brains" of the Socialist Party of America. No wonder "the Party" here is the happy hunting ground of freaks of every kind and of professional wind-bags who find a soft haven of refuge from work in preaching the gospel of Government Ownership and Christian Fellowship, seasoned with a little higher wages and more efficiency.

"Worse than Hell."
Mr. Berger closes his editorial with this:
We Socialists are as much opposed to militarism as we ever were. But the Socialist Party is not for peace at any price. War may be hell, but there are some things in this world worse than "hell." Real Socialist are willing to fight these things.
What "these things" are we are not told. Where ignorance is bliss silence is golden.

A "Socialist" In Sackcloth
This puerility recalls the attitude of the present lone Congressman of the "Socialist Party," Meyer London, who represents the East Side tenement district of New York City, which has been described as "a pocket edition of hell." On May 5th there was a debate in Congress on giving the franchise to the people of the American colony, Porto Rico. After London had said: "The man whose vote you take away will have the right to put the knife of the assassin into the heart of any man who attempts to govern him against his will," an uproar took place in the House and a member moved that London be expelled unless he apologised for insulting Congress. Meyer London apologised. Not only that: as L. B. Boudin said in the "New Review," he did it "in such a miserable way that the reading of the printed record of the scene is sickening and disheartening beyond measure." And as asked plaintively, "What has happened to London?"

History as It is Not.
The conspiracy of silence with which we were met in the English labour Press because we dared to expose the fraud of political compromise and reform advocacy, has spread to America. Ever since the war started the Labour and alleged Socialist Press of the United States has carefully refrained from referring to our Party at all when dealing with Socialism in Great Britain. The "New York Call," the privately-owned organ of the Socialist Party of America, continually refers to the Independent Labour Party as the only party in England that is standing against the war, and this in spite of the fact that we have sent the SOCIALIST STANDARD regularly ever since our masters decided on war.

Some "News."
The "International Socialist Review" is a non-party magazine which is practically run in the interests of the I.W.W. and "Direct Action." The "International Notes" of the July issue (written by Wm. E. Bohn) are an example of the misrepresentation of the movement in England. Says Mr. Bohn, "The Independent Labour Party has been against the war from the beginning." To those who have carefully followed the actions and literature of this body this is grotesque. We know that right through the war it has allowed its members, and especially its members in Parliament, to push recruiting and to appeal to working men to join this this capitalist war. Even its alleged anti-war member, Ramsay MacDonald, states that "we" must carry the war to a successful conclusion. We know that long before conscription started the I.L.P. left it to each member to decide whether he would enlist, which is not a Socialist position. When we recall the speeches of the I.L.P. Members of Parliament like J. O'Grady, G. N. Barnes, Charles Duncan, Adamson, Richardson, and W. C. Anderson, we realise the depth of the "Review's" distortion of facts.

Fact versus Fiction.
The writer evidently that the campaign against conscription (which was not supported by many of its Members of Parliament) entitles it to be called "anti-war from the beginning."

The Independent Labour Party is a part of the Labour Party which has used all its energy to support the war and seduce the workers into supporting it. The Independent Labour Party is pledged to maintain the Labour Party constitution and also its candidates.

When the "Review" says that "we on the outside are obliged to take the votes of the Independent Labour Party and the British Socialist Party as the true indications of Socialist opinion in England and to say that American Socialists are pleased with these indications," it is lying, and that is putting it mildly.

The Test of Socialism.
The Independent Labour Party, whose leaders like Keir Hardie and MacDonald, denied the class struggle; the party which advised the workers to vote for one of the capitalist parties in politics; the party whose members were allowed to support increased armaments; the independent labour party financed by avowed non-socialists; a party which, as Engels said long ago, was brought into being with the help of Maltman Barrie, the paid Conservative agent; this organised body which has lately given support to the nonsensical propaganda of avowed anti-Socialists like E. D. Morel and Mr. Ponsonby, M.P.: this is the party which represents the true indication of Socialist opinion! Save us from such!

The British Socialist is also a true indication of Socialism! A party whose policy has been to support the Conservative and Liberal sections of the robbing class, which has advocated a Citizen Army, a score of rotten reforms, a large Navy and a strong Army, etc., without the protest and in most cases with the support of, the very men who still form the rump of the British Socialist Party. The whole controversy within the latter, too, has been about details of war, and there has been no large conflict of opinion as to the support of the war itself — because the members do not understand Socialism.

I challenge the "Review" to answer—if it can. Perhaps, too, when dealing with influences against the war in England it may find space to mention the S.P.G.B.
Adolph Kohn

Struggle (1986)

Book Review from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Strike Weapon—Lessons of the Miners' Strike. (SPGB 30p)

The past year has seen the publication of a variety of books, pamphlets and articles on the miners' strike. They range from pedestrian accounts written by capitalist commentators who are more concerned to dwell on the personalities and the tedium of isolated events to the retrospective manifestoes of the leftists who believe that the strike would have been won if only the leaders had listened to them. Despite the nonsense and superficial analysis which has been written about the strike, the importance of that industrial battle between the NUM and the capitalist state in the history of the class struggle in the 1980s cannot be denied.

The Socialist Party's new pamphlet, The Strike Weapon—Lessons of The Miners' Strike does not offer an account of what happened during the strike; socialists are not out to record history, but to interpret it with a view to positive action. Neither does the pamphlet seek to advise the miners — or any other trade unionists — how to win strikes. The function of The Socialist Party is not to give uninvited advice to workers fighting over the terms of wage slavery — how the trade union struggle is fought must be decided by those involved, not by preachers from the sidelines. In its four chapters this pamphlet deals with four basic themes. Firstly, it is shown how the nationalised coal industry — like all nationalised industries — is state capitalist. With a wealth of evidence, not to be found in any publication on sale today, the first chapter demonstrates that the NCB is a state-capitalist institution and that nationalisation is but another way of administering the exploitation of the working class. Secondly, the pamphlet examines the role of the state and shows that it is capitalists, coercive, non-neutral. Years ago Marx stated that the state was merely the executive committee of the capitalist class—our pamphlet gives new, powerful evidence to justify that. Thirdly, the pamphlet deals with the strike weapon — a useful and necessary weapon, but one which should not be overestimated within the confines of the wages system where the exploiting class will at best only concede crumbs. Fourthly, and most importantly, the pamphlet asks the question: What is the alternative? This is not left vague or hidden. The meaning of socialism is stated with clarity and the urgency of organising for it is the lesson of this pamphlet. At 30p a copy this document should be in the hands of all workers; don't just buy one, pick up a dozen or more and get them into the hands of friends and workmates.

Supplies are obtainable from your local branch or group or from 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. And while you're at it, don't forget to obtain the new pamphlet, From Capitalism To Socialism and the latest issue of the international journal of the World Socialist Movement, The World Socialist.
Steve Coleman

Capitalism Incorporated (2004)

Film Review from the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Corporation, a recently released film directed by Mark Achban, Jennifer Abbot and Joel Bakan, begins with a little US political history, observing how, in the 19th century, a “corporation” was a “benevolent” association of people with a government charter to serve “the public good”. When, in the late 1860s, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution recognised the slave as having human rights, the nascent corporate elite of the time had their lawyers stake a claim to the same rights with the Supreme Court. They fought and won, and the state henceforth recognised the corporation as a human being, a person in law, with the same right to life, liberty and property.
   
This leads to one of the big questions of the film: if corporations are legally defined as people, then what kind of people are they? One way the film addresses this question is to call in the FBI’s Consultant on Psychopaths, Dr Robert Hare. Hare proceeds to run through a check-list of the traits of your run-of-the-mill psychopath before concluding that the modern corporation, bearing no moral responsibility for its actions, is very much the prototypical psychopath.
   
Much of the remainder of the film is given over to proving this claim beyond all reasonable doubt and many authoritative witnesses are wheeled in to testify. And what a selection of witnesses there are! Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Anita Roddick, Vandana Shiva, Michael Moore; experts from every field and all manner of labour rights organisations and grass roots activists, economists such as Milton Friedman and many CEOs. Their statements amount to a damning examination of the nature and personality of the modern corporation, charting its growth, its extending influence and downright indifference to democracy and how, as one commentator observes, it has turned into a “monster, trying to devour as much profit as possible at anyone’s expense.”

No such thing as enough
What we are presented with is an image of all-powerful organisations running wild, rabid with greed, superpowers, for whom there is “no such thing as enough” (Moore), for whom “everything is legitimate in the pursuit of profit” (Roddick). Modern corporations are presented as the “new high priests”, more powerful than governments and accountable only to their shareholders, their brand labels protected by more legislation than covers the rights of the children who sew them onto their overpriced merchandise.
   
The film pits competing ideas on the modern corporation against one another. We are at one stage shown the offices of the National Labour Committee and hear Executive Director Charles  Kernaghan revealing the level of exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic (who for instance earn 75 cents for each Nike jacket that sells for $178 and 3 cents for a tee shirt that retails at $14.) We are shown the living conditions of those same desperate workers and hear their own testimony as to the level of their destitution and then listen to Michael Walker of the corporate think-tank, the Fraser Institute, expounding his views on the role competitive markets play in providing for the economic and social well-being and how he believes firms such as Nike are an “enormous godsend” to people in the Dominican Republic
   
The film contains much that is totally fascinating. One section looks at big business and its penchant for the dictatorial regime. We are shown how a punch card system devised and regularly maintained by IBM (operating out of New York) processed millions of concentration camp victims, and how Coca Cola, faced with the possibility of having its operation curtailed in Nazi Germany, simply changed its name to Fanta. Much evidence is presented as to how corporate allegiance to profit transcends its loyalty to national flags and we are presented with one startling fact: that in one week 57 US companies were fined for trading with enemies of the US. Contemplating big business’s links to tyrannical regimes, one commentator asks “is it narcissism that compels them to seek their reflection in the regimented structure of fascist regimes?”
   
One of several cases studies the film presents is that relating to Monsanto (famous for Agent Orange and  50,000 birth defects in Vietnam) and its manufacture of  Posilac. This was a drug which, when injected into cows, increased their milk yield. That the world was awash with milk did not concern Monsanto; they were far more interested in profits and eventually were supplying a quarter of US dairy herds with the product. But because cows were not meant to produce so much milk, their udders went into overdrive and became infected with mastitis, the pus from which infected the milk. Not only were humans suffering the effects of the chemicals injected into the milk, their milk was now infected with mastitis pus. Monsanto’s reaction was to deny all allegations and to lie like condemned murderers.

Reckless pollution
The modern corporation is perhaps most vilified for its total lack of respect for the environment and biosphere on which all life on Earth depends. Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Inc, who has won much acclaim promoting the idea that environmental responsibility makes good business sense, is seen addressing an audience of business leaders in North Carolina. Greeting them as “fellow plunderers”, he goes on to tell them that there is “not an industrial company in the world that is sustainable.”
   
Robert Weismann of Multinational Monitor reminds us that the cost of getting caught for their corporate transgressions – i.e. environmental pollution – is, more often than not, less than the cost of complying with existing environmental legislation. Dr Vandara Shiva, physicist and ecologist, despairingly contemplates the suicide gene built into new strains of cash crop seeds, the new terminator technology that makes the third world farmer dependent ever on the seed supplier (instead of traditionally putting aside a portion of the harvest as seeds for the following year), and calls them inventions of a ear), and calls them inventions of a “brutal mind”.
   
For the corporation, nothing is sacred. Even the US Patent Office has conceded defeat in its attempts to stop them patenting life forms, bearing out Roddick’s sentiment that every means is legitimate if the end be profit. Climbing down from one seven-year battle with big business, the Office had this to say: “You can patent anything in the world which is alive except a full birth human being.”
   
The film nears an end with a case study of the privatisation of the water supply of Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the behest of the World Bank, focusing  particularly on the town’s residents and their run in with the forces of the state acting on behalf of Bechtel, a San Francisco based company who bought the water company. So keen were the powers that be to force the people to bow to the power of Bechtel that they demolished their homes for non-payment of their exorbitant water rates and made the collecting of rain water illegal. The frustration spilled onto the streets with huge demonstrations and riots and violent clashes with the police. Eventually, though, Bechtel were forced to pull out of their Bolivian venture, but not before they had put in a claim for $25 million in compensation.

Weakness
It is from this case study and other cited instances of green activism that we are meant to draw inspiration; the message being that the corporation should not underestimate the power of the people, that “the workers, united, can never be defeated”.  Of course, corporations are advised to tidy up their act too. Michael Moore tells us that there should be more governmental controls and the film ends with Moore hoping the film will prompt people “to do something, anything, to get the world back in our hands”. This suggests that Moore, and others who promote similar ideas in the film, are missing the point. Granted, it is commendable, heroic even, that workers are prepared to often risk life and limb to defend themselves and to confront the most harrowing acts perpetrated by corporations. But it is a dangerous to believe that such grassroots action amounts to wresting control of the world away from its current owners.
   
If anyone considers this film a trumpet call for social change, a reveille for revolution, they are mistaken. The capitalist system is left unscathed. Nowhere is the market-driven profit system as such challenged. Nowhere are all of the case studies and criticism of corporate power and abuse rooted in a wider context. Nowhere does a commentator lambast the global “can’t pay, can’t have” society that consigns the greater portion of the population of the planet to lives of abject misery. And no interviewee comes near to demanding the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement with a system of society based on free access.  Capitalism is taken for granted as being immutable and all that is being asked at the end is that corporations wear a smiley face and stop behaving so horridly.
   
Moore may well contemplate why such films are broadcast by TV corporations, in spite of the fact that they attack corporate power; for the record, he suggests it is because there is profit to be made by them and he may be partly right. But he fails to grasp that this, and similar films like Fahrenheit 911, nowhere query the basis of class society – the set-up that allows the ownership of property by one privileged class, and the consequent enslavement of one class by another, is in no way threatened and the TV company broadcasting programmes that reveal corporate crimes is aware of this.
   
I don’t really want to rubbish the whole film but, in truth, The Corporation simply echoes the sentiments of the anti-globalisation movement – the demand for greater corporate responsibility, reform of international institutions, expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions, for instance – while allowing capitalism to carry on perpetrating every social ill that plagues us.

The Corporation is undoubtedly a remarkable exposé of the modern corporation at its ugliest, of the lengths corporations will go to and the depths they will stoop to in the search for profit. The film stands as a brilliant critique of corporate power and everything we associate with it and is a much needed resource in revealing the insanity of the present system. And as far as enthusing green activists and lending weight to the anti-globalisation cause is concerned, the film is a powerful tool. But that’s not the way out.
John Bissett

SIDELIGHT ON THE U.S.A. (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American Magazine "Time" of February 23rd, 1953, paints a revealing picture of the mercenary struggle that goes on behind the scenes when the big record companies of the United States decide that they have a vocal "hit" personality. "Time" spotlights Rosemary Clooney the latest best seller of the revolving disc and tells us that the reason for her success is because to the trade "her voice is both 'barrel house' and blue, i.e., robust and fresh with an undercurrent of seductiveness . . . it has a cinnamon flavour that tends to remind fans of happier days gone by—or soon to come." "Time" continues "Moreover thanks to a maloclusion of the Clooney jaw her voice carries just the hint of a lisp. A word like 'kiss' comes out 'kish' and 'caress' like 'carest' . . . Clooney gets a sound that no other competitor quite duplicates."

We are then told of one Mitch Miller who chooses the songs for Columbia records, who employs both himself and Rosemary Clooney. In four or five hours he may listen to as many as fifty songs any of which will possibly be sung by one or more of Columbia's best selling warblers. Keeping in mind the age group 14-22 years that buys most of these records Mr. Miller has an infallible formula "Keep it simple, keep it sexy, keep it sad." Whilst giving auditions to these new ballads that are soon to rend the hearts and moisten the eyes of American and British youth, Mr. Miller will pass the time "spooning yoghourt or munching hard boiled eggs."

And what does all this add up to for Miss Clooney the girl wit the maloclusion (whatever that may mean) of the jaw? "Time" tells us "a jungly world of high pressure pluggers struggling songsmiths and all important disc jockeys. It was a world where she came to own only 75 per cent. of herself with her managers and booking agents owning the other 25 per cent. Above all it was a world where click or smash hit was the ultimate goal where clearance (by payment to publishing societies) was necessary for permission to plug a song on the air; a world where cut-ins (giving a performer a share of song profits), hot stones (open bribes), and other forms of payola were standing operating procedure; a world of concern . . . of romance (a verb meaning to shower disc jockeys and musicians with attention in return for performances)," and now apparently she is on her way to Hollywood and stardom.

While one may not wish the young woman of our story anything but good (it is not often that members of the working class get such quick and relatively easy money) we would venture to suggest that within a socialist society people will be much more able and much freer to create their own music alongside and in harmony with their other activities and to be able to appreciate a better standard from those who can excel. This of course does not mean the howlers, echo box and crying performers that seem to be necessary to give youth a shot in the arm today. It would also mean an end to the parasites who, like leeches, fasten on to any new success as long as they can take a cut or a rake off.

Incidentally Columbia with six other recording companies shared 100,000,000 dollars worth of business last year and business is still booming.
S.E.K.