Friday, September 18, 2015

The Ineffectuals: Old and New (1951)

From the February 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Monday, the 15th January, the B.B.C. produced another of their programmes on the present half-century. It covered the twenties and was written by Rebecca West. The whole of it was an example of the ignorance, inexperience and fatuousness of the "Bright young things" who emerged into the practical world from the "upper class." We were told about the "treasure hunts" lasting most of the night, and of various futile capers, which Rebecca West defended on the ground that behind it all they were searching for a solution of the problem of war and of poverty; that the feminine section were let loose on the world to enter the professions and the like for the first time and that their freedom temporarily went to their heads. She herself belonged to that generation and she told us how their hopes were built on the expectation of abolishing war—and then these hopes were shattered; of their hopes to abolish poverty by supporting "Labour," and how thrilled they were when the first real Labour Government was voted to power in 1929—and again how their hopes were shattered. In fact the whole programme was a record of the fatuous illusions and the inevitable disillusionment of the self-styled "Intellectuals." The facts of social life and the essentials of its economic basis seemed to be outside of their knowledge and experience and they lost themselves in airy futilities. From the programme one gleaned nothing of the fact that working-class girls had been working and wrestling with the problems of life for long years before the women of Rebecca West's circle had emerged from the cocoon of pampered privilege and became writers, artists, and so forth.

But the "Intellectuals" never learn. Convinced that the sun shines out of them, they go on blowing their coloured bubbles, changing the colours as each bubble bursts without any conception of the reason the bubbles burst.

A recent example of their bubble-blowing was the "Congress of Cultural Freedom" held from June 25th to the 30th, 1950. From the Report of this Congress, published under the title "Freedom Takes the Offensive," the reader can satisfy himself on the type of people who took part in the Congress.

The Introduction informs us that the "Manifesto on Cultural Freedom" was "draw up . . . by leading intellectuals from 24 nations." Let us glance at some of the statements made by these "men of brains."

Pages 1 to 3 of the Report contain messages from nine people, all of whom see intellectual freedom in the West and intellectual chains in the East. No reference is made to the economic bondage that exists in both East and West and hampers working-class aspirations in both spheres. But as we shall see the "intellectuals" are not concerned about any but their own little circle of wind-bags.

The first contribution is by Arthur Koestler. He makes a series of muddled statements, without any clear definitions, that leave the reader in the air. His second paragraph runs as follows:—
"In fact, the thesis which I wish to put before you is that the antinomies "Socialism and Capitalism," "Left and Right," have to-day become virtually empty of meaning, and that so long as Europe remains bogged down in these false alternatives which obstruct clear thinking, it cannot hope to find a constructive solution for its problems."
After this one would expect some definition of Socialism, but it is not given, and, although there is some criticism of nationalisation, one is left with the idea that Mr. Koestler identifies nationalisation with Socialism. For instance on page 8 he says, "Equally problematic is the question: just how much nationalisation makes a country Socialist or Capitalist?" The concluding paragraph of his contribution is a pearl. It is an excellent example of the impotence of his tribe:
"Sometimes I have a feeling in my bones that the terrible pressure which this conflict [between Capitalism and Socialism] exerts on all humanity might perhaps represent a challenge, a biological stimulus as it were, which will release the new mutation of human consciousness; and that its content might be a new spiritual awareness, born of anguish and suffering, of the full meaning of freedom. And I don't mean by that freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the rest. Since the dawn of civilization people have fought under the slogan of freedom; but it was always freedom from some particularly irksome oppression, freedom in a restricted sense. I mean freedom in a much deeper and fuller sense than any we can conceive to-day or see realized anywhere in organic nature. If that is the case, then we are indeed living in an interesting time, and the answer we shall give to destiny's challenge is not without import for the future of our species."
What a pity he did not reveal that which is inconceivable to-day.

Sidney Hook poses a number of questions but does not give the answers, and James T. Farrell makes a fervent plea for "artists, thinkers and scientists," and gives an imaginary picture of freedom in the West, ending with a plea for the "moral impulse." Here are some extracts from his contribution: —
"Our task is to make as clear and as explicit as we can the meaning of freedom of culture, and, having done this, to show . . . what differentiates us from totalitarianism. To show how we live under different conditions of cultural life than do artists, thinkers and scientists in the stricken lands behind the Iron Curtain . . .
"We are free to admire what we value, and to reject what we do not value. We can criticize and we can oppose. We can participate in or ignore politics, as we think best. We can act as free artists, thinkers and scientists. And it is these rights which we should defend, use and expand. In these rights, we find the essence of cultural freedom . . .
"The freedom we possess should impose an obligation and a sense of duty upon us. In one of his great speeches, Abraham Lincoln used the phrase: 'With malice towards none, with charity for all . . . ' I hope that, without any sacrifice of firmness of purpose, we all permeate our thinking with the spirit implied in these words of Lincoln. Especially when we look towards Soviet-dominated countries where artists and thinkers and scientists are forced to wear the uniform of totalitarianism, and where the dignity of men and women has been ground into dust. To these suffering people, to the terrorised artists and thinkers behind the Iron Curtain, we cannot and should not bear malice."
Lack of space deprives us of the opportunity of tearing to pieces the above and the rest of the nonsense Mr. Farrell has contributed about the "traditions of civilisation." If Mr. Farrell could tear his attention away from the "artists, thinkers, and scientists" for a few moments he might notice the existence of conscripts, of wage-freezing, of heresy hunting, of form-filling that puts our life-histories at the disposal of the State, the lack of housing accommodation, the armaments drive, and the numerous other joys of our jolly old Western democracy.

Another contributor, Richard Lowenthal, finishes his little piece with what reads like a plea for war: —
"The defence of freedom, then, is nothing else but the defence of this vital Western capacity for growth, and it resolves itself into a dual task: the task of going on to find creative solutions to the West's internal problems, and the task of defending the Western society's territory against the pressure of Soviet totalitarianism from outside."
Like the rest of the contributors, Mr. Lowenthal offers no solution "to the West's internal problems." However, if his remarks read like a plea for war, James Burnham is quite open about it, as the following remarks of his show: —
"Moreover, I must add, in order to be fully honest, that I am not, under any and all circumstances, against atomic bombs. I am against those bombs, now stored or to be stored later in Siberia or the Caucasus, which are designed for the destruction of Paris, London, Rome, Brussels, Stockholm, New York, Chicago . . . Berlin, and of Western Civilisation generally. But I am—yesterday and to-day at any rate—for those bombs made in Los Alamos, Hanford, and Oak Ridge, and guarded I know not where in the Rockies  or American deserts."
A nice discriminating and humane lover of peace and freedom is Mr. Burnham! This final example of the wisdom of the intellectuals is perhaps a fitting point at which to finish.

How Can a Real Revolution Be Achieved (1987)

Debate between Dick Donnelly, SPGB, and Albert Meltzer, 'Black Flag' (anarchist) Duke of York, Islington, London, 12-02-1987.

Obituary: Charley Clarke (1962)

Obituary from the December 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was with deep regret that Nottingham members heard of the death of our comrade Charley Clarke, of Burton-on-Trent, in his 87th year. Charley was the eldest of the three Clarke brothers, well known no doubt to many of the older party members, their membership of The Party having extended over many years, and anyone who came in contact with them must have been impressed by their utter and sincere dedication to the cause of Socialism.

As Socialists, their way of life did not run along orthodox lines and they were regarded as rather queer fish by the people in Burton. All three for instance were bachelors, vegetarians, and among other interests were students of natural history, astronomy, and other aspects of science. Joe the younger brother aged 70 years, has had his daily swim in the river Trent, winter and summer, for many years. Living as close to "nature" as conditions would permit, it is not surprising that the locals did believe that they were not quite "with it".

There was always great consternation when this trio attended political meetings, where they carried out devastating attacks on all non-socialists, and proceeded to mutilate the policies of the Labour and Communist Parties, much to the confusion of some speakers and audiences alike. This of course did not help their popularity among the local politicians.

Because of their opposition to the first World War, they were recipients of the honour of "The White Feather", at the hands of the local "patriots", and all three went to prison as conscientious objectors, much to the delight of the jingoists. Although their life must have been very hard, they never gave up the struggle, and indeed, by their sincerity made many friends among those who understood what they were striving for.

In their work for Socialism they have travelled many miles to political meetings, to sell literature, and ask questions. This work will be carried on by Fred and Joe. A last gesture from Charley, while he lay on his death bed, attended by his brother Joe, was to urge Joe to leave him to attend a meeting at Nottingham to carry on the work for Socialism. The most noble work that mankind can perform. That is what Charley used to say.
J. Cuthbertson

The Stagnant Society (1961)

Book Review from the October 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Stagnant Society, by Michael Shanks, by Michael Shanks. Penguin Books, 3s. 6d.

In case you should think from the title that this is a radical attack on the very basis of modern society, let us disillusion you right away. This is a sort of "Wake up Britain" book.

Mr. Shanks is very much concerned that Britain in the 1960s' is losing the productivity race with other countries and is failing to compete successfully in world markets. A large chunk of the book is taken up with criticising the trade unions and urging them to mend their ways. Why don't they co-operate with employers and government? Why don't they put an end to wildcat strikes? Why don't they tighten up on organisation, etc? Look at the following extract from page 102, for example:—
. . . I want to see it [the T.U. Movement] play a much more forceful and positive role in helping to make Britain more dynamic and more efficient . . . They [the Trade Unions] have got to find a new dynamic to replace the old fading appeal to working-class solidarity and negative opposition to the 'bosses'.
In 236 pages, the author sweeps across the post-war industrial field and skims blithely over one problem after another. Labour relations, financial policy, government planning, export drives, labour mobility—they are all here, and many more besides. And having waded through to the bitter end, what does it all amount to but a plan for the smoother operation of British Capitalism? "If we are in competition with manufacturers overseas," he says, "the solution is not to move out of their way but to make ourselves more efficient and competitive than they are . . . Planning should be aimed at promoting expansion and not avoiding competition."

Do not be misled either by the short publisher's note on the back cover, with its vague references to "class divisions." This book is not an attack on a class-divided society. It is really only an appeal for co-operation between the classes "in the national interest" which Mr. Shanks fondly labels as a "breaking down of class barriers." Capitalist ownership of the means of life — the barrier — he does not question. We have, of course, heard it all many times before.

Perhaps you should read The Stagnant Society. It will possibly give you an insight into current misconceptions about the Capitalist World—that's if you don't die of boredom halfway through it. We understand this is Michael Shanks' first book. We regret we cannot recommend it for an honoured place on a Socialist bookshelf. 
E. T. C.

The Cash Nexus (1960)

Theatre Review from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The people of a small German town foregather to welcome the return of Claire Zachanassian, a now fabulously wealthy women who had left her home as a girl of seventeen, many years before. The town is by no means well off, and has high hopes that she will offer them a not considerable part of her vast riches. This she does, but upon one condition: that Anton Schill, a leading member of the community—her former love who had disowned her, pregnant and poverty stricken, and had her driven from the town as a whore—forfeits his life.

Outraged, the people protest in the name of humanity and refuse her extreme terms. But since she had been so brutally treated, Claire Zachanassian has planned retribution on those responsible. After the refusal, she proposes to gather the people, slowly and unsuspectingly, into her power, by inducing them to incur an immense debt through extravagant living on credit which she knows they will never be able to meet. Which in turn forces them to abandon Anton Schill and condemn him to die. This briefly is the story of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play "The Visit" produced at the new Royalty Theatre. The play's improbability is unimportant beside the sinister reality of its meaning: the power of money over the lives of men.

The progress of the play presents a remarkable study of a change in human behaviour. At the beginning, the people of the small town of Gullen, simple and easy-going folk although poor, have learned since the decline of their industry to be content with little and not to expect much more. The change in their way of life as a result of the intrigues of Claire Zachanassian, in whom they see the obvious virtuous of a rich woman, brings with it also a complete change in their attitudes and values.

Their lives now rest on a precarious system of credit, weighed down by a fake prosperity  that they naively regard as real wealth. But with this goes fear; for what they now they are afraid to lose. A fear that rots the fabric of their relationships with one another, for they now fear one another; afraid of treachery in the name of the humanity they one professed. Dire economic necessity can no longer sustain their one once outraged principles and in the new found values they now see every justification for the death of Anton Schill. For Schill, their once respected future Burgomaster, they have nothing but hatred; they brand him as an enemy of the people who stands between them and their dreams of wealth, and they demand his life. The people, and their once despised outcast, who ironically is the anonymous owner of their decaying industry, are united, but it is the uneasy union of slave and master. By playing on their greed, Claire Zachanassian has made them bring down her revenge on their own hands, and create their own bondage.

In one of his poems, D. H. Lawrence has written that the "Work-Cash-Want circle is the viciousest circle that ever turned men into fiends." The cynical disregard for humanity that capitalism inculcates makes us its playthings; its cat-paws, as Dürrenmatt's millionairess makes the people of Gullen. We destroy ourselves in the cash race. "This," wrote Lawrence in the same poem, "is called universal freedom."
Ian Jones