Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Vitalising Principle of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (1955)

From the March 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was organised in 1904 in order to achieve the emancipation of the working class. That was the reason for its founding.

The people who formed our party were working men and working women. They had learnt that there was only one way by which the workers could gain their emancipation. That way was by establishing Socialism, and that there were no short cuts to this objective. Bitter experience had taught them that the fatuous policies of "progressives," the blissful dreams of humanitarians, the patronising philosophysing of "intellectuals," and the prolonged agony of reformism, were all alike delusions and snares. Their experiences and studies in an earlier organisation had taught them three things: The Socialism could only be established by a working class that understood what it involved and wanted it; that before Socialism could be established the working class must take the powers of government out of the hands of the possessing class; and, finally, that the Socialist Party must follow an unswerving course based upon an understanding of the class struggle and its implications.

When the founder members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain realised that the party to which they formerly belonged, the Social Democratic Federation, was leading the workers into a morass, they then decided to form a new party with the aim of emancipating the workers by establishing Socialism, and cleaving to this as their sole object. Hence they set down their object and formulated a set of principles which summarised the existing social system, its implications and the course that must be followed.

Since 1904 the other parties have come and gone, chimerical hopes have been raised, but the basic position has not changed, nor are there any indications that it is ever likely to change before the accomplishment of the Party's objective. Hence the only course the workers can follow in order to achieve their emancipation from the capitalist system of exploitation is to work for the establishment of Socialism and to ignore all the alluring and much trodden byways which only lead to frustration and despair. No amount of word spinning, verbal juggling, or hairsplitting, can get around this position or surmount the obstacles that stand in the workers' path to emancipation. To no longer be solely concerned with the emancipation of the working class would be to abandon the outlook that brought our party into existence, inspired those who have continued to press forward its outlook and policy, and what has kept the Party on a sound Socialist course through 50 years of tribulation and opposition.

The fact that the emancipation of the working class by the establishment of Socialism will have beneficial effects on groups of people, whether they be workers or not, who suffer other forms of discriminations is entirely incidental and has no bearing on our intentions or procedure, though it helps to support our case.

The class cleavage between workers and capitalists is universal; it cuts across all national, colour and religious distinctions. It overrides and swamps all other distinctions in the final analysis and the final reckoning. When the class distinction between the working class and the capitalist class has been abolished by the establishment of Socialism all other distinctions that set people at variance today will go with it.

Finally, our exclusive aim is the emancipation of the working class by the establishment of Socialism, and we welcome to our ranks all who are prepared to help us in this work.

One O'Clock, Two O'Clock, Three O'Clock, Rock . . . (1957)

From the February 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rock, Around the Clock . . . Yes, Rock n' Roll is the craze—from London to Glasgow, Paris to Berlin, and even Moscow.

Dixieland, New Orleans, Chicago, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Jive, Bop . . . they all come, and go. And now it's Rock 'n' Roll. Teenagers shout, sing and riot wherever the film "Rock Around the Clock" is showing; dance halls hold weekly Rock 'n' Roll nights; records by Bill Haley, the Platters and Elvis Presley, sell by the million, and even the B.B.C. play a few Rock 'n' Roll records. Yes, it's the craze. But why?

Every so often "Pop" music gets a shot in the arm; a new lease of life. In the 'twenties it was the Charleston and Jazz Bands, the 'thirties Swing, Boogie Woogie and Jive; the 'forties the New Orleans revival and Bop. And now  . . . "Rock"!

What then is Rock 'n' Roll? It isn't Jazz or Swing or Boogie. It's just a combination of the three . . . a simple beat, a simple lyric, improvisation, plenty of noise—plus "corn"; all the "gimmicks" in the book. Yes it's a gimmick; musical extroversion of the Nth degree. But it's got a beat. Even the "squares" tap their feet, and "cats" just go wild!

Why do many youngsters go wild over Rock 'n' Roll? Why did many go crazy over Goodman, Basie or Harry James in the 'thirties or the Charleston Chasers in the 'twenties? Why do people mob a movie star or a famous footballer? The reason, I think, is that life for most people is pretty boring, "soul destroying"—particularly for youngsters, teenagers, who have more energy than their elders; who have not yet had the zest for life knocked out of them. After eight or nine hours in an office, shop or factory, the "kids" want to do something; they want to express themselves in some way or another. Life for most of them seems empty, purposeless. Modern Capitalist society with its general insecurity, its wars and its call-ups gives them very little to strive for. And after a day at the office or factory bench, they've just got to let themselves go. They need some kind of escape; some kind of outlet for pent-up energy. The movies, the Dance Halls, the Jazz Clubs, provide them with this "escape", this outlet. The cinema, the Dance Halls and Jazz Clubs, each with its variation on an old theme, or a new gimmick or craze such as "Bop" or "Rock" give these youngsters and teenagers a chance once, twice or more times a week to get away from what are often poor, uncomfortable homes; to sing, dance, stamp their feet and "let their hair down," away from the chief clerk, clerk, the factory foreman—and their parents; to leave their worries, their problems, their frustrations and repressions behind—for a while.

Rock 'n' Roll is a new craze. But a Rock 'n' Roll night at the Palais; a Rock 'n' Roll Jamboree can be fun for a few hours a week, yet after all it's not much of a substitute for a really full and interesting life. And our present society denies that to most young people today.

But, for the time being, at least  . . . "Rock around the Clock."
Peter E. Newell

Marilyn Monroe: A Cultural Phenomena (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Beauty is only skin-deep," wrote the Self-Made Merchant to his son, "but that's deep enough to satisfy any reasonable man." That was sixty years ago, before it became customary to used the hands for describing beauty and when beuty, however deep, kept most of its skin under cover. The reasonable man's pleasure to-day is Marilyn Monroe, and the publishers and booksellers, with their empirical knowledge of his tastes cannot give him enough of her—at second hand, of course.

Reigning beauties of the past, for all that poets have made of them, reigned only in courts and castes. Miss Monroe's sovereignty is practically unlimited, geographically or socially. Not long back, manchester City Councillors averred her to be preferable to one of Henry Moore's sculptures, and a Work of Art: a national columnist went farther and said she was an Act of God. Even the Communists' censoriousness of her as a dollar princess has the scent of sour grapes. Marilyn Monroe, in fact, represents the acme of desirability in this day and age.

Times have changed, of course. This writer once heard an old lady describe how, mounting her bicycle in the eighteen-nineties, she was attacked by a woman who screamed: "You brazen thing! I can see your ankles!" It is not only that people in the 'nineties would have been shocked by Miss Monroe, undissembled in tight or negligible clothing: they would have thought her ugly, too. The beauties of the day—Lily Langtry, Olga Nethersole, La Belle Otero—were strapping girls with all the appearance of good living. Nobody talked of slimming, and the ladies' magazines advertised a treatment called Diano which, if it was all true, was nothing short of an inflationary measure.

The case for eternal beauty becomes as illogical as the argument that there is eternal morality, when one considers the variations in both according to time and place. Metropolitan man may pull faces over the Congo's idea of pulchritude; it is certain that the African native in turn would not think a lot of Marilyn Monroe. It is a question of what you esteem, and that itself is a question of what your world finds necessary. There is an old but appropriate story of a farmer and his guest together gazing across the countryside: the townsman rhapsodizes about the rolling vista, the farmer spits and says, "Thirty-bob-an-acre stuff." Most likely the African, as well as the Eskimo and some others, would say something of the sort about Miss Monroe.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a fair enough statement of fact, but it leaves the important question unanswered. Man is the beholder: what puts, and transforms, beauty in his eye—his mind's eye? In primitive communities it is chiefly physical function, the apparent capacity for child-bearing and hard work. In class-divided societies, beauty has always been seen to a large extent in terms of conspicuous leisure; the sirens of all western civilization seem to have done little else through history but loll on divans (if you believe it, look in the art galleries). And, of course, every age creates its own motives and needs which help to shape its concept of beauty. According to the franker historians, mediaeval ladies often assailed the nostrils as well as the heart, but nobody minded much; nowadays, with a century's public health behind and the soap advertisements before us, a whiff of perspiration kills romance.

Marilyn Monroe is the personification of what popular consciousness in our time deems desirable. The rubato walk is a source of delight; in Victorian England, when no respectable woman thought sex pleasurable, it would have brought an indignant flush to a decent man's face. When the family was sacrosanct (because the economic ties which held it were still fairly strong) sexual provocation was shameful. Now the ties have sagged, the morality has sagged too, and beauty can present itself to arouse the instinctive polygamist in every man. And the conspicuous leisure is still there—in impractical dress as well as the sultriness and aura of wealth.

There is more to Marilyn Monroe than merely physique, however. She is "the sexiest girl in Hollywood," the girl who posed naked for a calendar and takes an interest in Freud. Almost every day there is a fresh tale and a fresh photograph; her skirts blow over her head, she distorts perspective with her callipygous charms. Her marriage to Joe DiMaggio was a feast for the papers and everybody's imagination. The husky, virile Joe, a masculine idol, and the supremely nubile Marilyn saying: "You can't take a career to bed and cuddle it," and: "I like honeymoons." Miss Monroe is, in fact, a dream. In Hollywood they make dreams; she is the most delectable dream of all.

The visual promise of pneumatic bliss is only the beginning. The real secret is the legend. Earlier film beauties, the vamps, the sweater girls and the rest, established conventions for exciting without intent to gratify; the Monroe legend is all of intent to gratify. Miss Monroe suggests not merely that she would please you but also that you would please her. From the humbleness-to-riches story, to the fabulous marriage and the scene where a plumber gropes for his pipe-wrench in her bath, the whole is a gorgeous fantasy into which every unsatisfied person of either sex can project every longing. It is Cinderella up-to-date, in glorious technicolour, and they live voluptuously as well as happily ever after.

None of this reflects any particular discredit on Miss Monroe or her employers, the film magnates. People who sell things, even dreams, are simply cashing-in on other people's needs—the only important criticism is of the world which creates such needs on so large a scale. The brevity of Marilyn Monroe's marriage indeed suggests that she herself is no more satisfied than a good many of her admirers. Certainly she knows no greater security—the careers of public entertainers are as precarious as those of any other people.

One of the paradoxes of our time is that, as fast as morality has slackened and so removed apparent obstacles to well-fulfilled sexual lives, the lack of satisfaction has grown. It is impossible to imagine a stable, sane community deifying a dream, but modern culture is largely made up of dreams. There is Miss Monroe; there are the revenge dreams of the brutal gangster stories, the escape dreams of popular romance, the vicarious thrills of speedways, space-fiction and the big fights. Our society, despising primitive people who incorporate sex practices in their cultures, has erected Marilyn Monroe as its tribal symbol—the symbol of frustration and unsatisfied desires.
Robert Barltrop

Hope for Nicaragua (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

For years Nicaragua was run by the Somoza family who, in return for maintaing "order", so that the exploitation of the peasants by US multinationals could continue in relative peace, were allowed to help themselves to some of the pickings of this exploitation. In the end the greed and corruption of this bunch of gangsters became too much even for the rest of the parasite class in Nicaragua, who threw in their lot with the Sandinista guerrilla movement (so called after a Nicaraguan general, Augusto Sandino, who led an anti-American and pro-peasant revolt in the late 1920s and early 1930s):
The enormous fortune of the Somozas had coexisted peacefully with the investments of the country's other businessmen until, following the 1972 earthquake, the Somoza family took over banking and construction, two fields considered as the preserve of the country's well-off class. From then on frictions appeared which ended in a break between the capitalists and General Somoza and in a union of capitalists with the young people who had taken up arms under the banner of the Sandinist National Liberation Front. (Républicain Lorrain, 18 July 1979) 
Within a few years of the overthrow of the Somozas in July 1979 power came to be exercised exclusively by the leaders of the Sandinist movement with most, but by no means all, the private capitalists and their supporters going over to the counter-revolution encourage, financed and armed by the US government.

Even if we assume that the leaders of the Sandinist movement who now occupy the top government and state posts in Nicaragua do not attribute themselves a privileged income compared with the rest of the population (which may be the case, to a certain extent) they are still compelled, by virtue of the fact that they are administering a state in the context of the capitalist world economy, to behave as a capitalist class.

Thus, they are forced to oblige peasants to grow cash crops for export, as a means to get foreign
currency (to buy machinery and arms), rather than allowing them to grow food to feed themselves. Thus, they are forced to brigade the workers into state-controlled "trade unions" and to denounce strikes as counter-revolutionary. In this respect, see the front page we reproduce here of of an official Sandinist newspaper whose headline reads: STRIKES WOULD BE AN EXCUSE FOR A YANKEE INVASION! The subtitle in white on black reads: "The strike is not necessary in Nicaragua because power is in the hands of the workers", exactly the same argument used by the rulers of state capitalist Russia and East Europe. In reality it is precisely the fact that the workers in Nicaragua have to sell their ability to work to an employer, private or state, for a wage or salary that shows both that they don't exercise power and that they need the strike weapon to defend themselves.

So, even without calling into doubt the sincerity of (most of) the Sandinist leaders and of those who support them in Nicaragua — by all accounts they do seem to genuinely wish to improve the lot of the ordinary people living there — the fact remains that there is no hope for the people of the so-called Third World as long as capitalism, in the form of the world market economy, remains the dominant world system. Their standard of living and their freedom will remain restricted either by a government operating openly in the interest of native and foreign private capitalists or, if a revolution occurs to try to free them from this oppression, by the very leaders of this revolution however sincere or well-meaning they might be (for the experience of such revolutions shows that in time leaders evolve, after eliminating any genuinely sincere elements among them, into a self-conscious, cynical and hypocritical ruling and privileged class.)

The only hope for the people of the Third World is a world socialist revolution to replace existing world capitalism. Until this happens capitalism will remain in existence in the Third World, either in the form of private capitalism under some corrupt and authoritarian government or in the form of state capitalism under the dictatorship of a vanguard party. In other words, even if they take up arms against such brutal dictators as Batista, Somoza or Pinochet, the most they can achieve is a new class society of state capitalism, not a classless society without exploitation.
Adam Buick