The Between the Lines Column from the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
The priorities of the profit system
A crazy system requires crazy people to run its affairs. The Stock Exchange is populated by people who are clearly crazed, exhibiting the behaviour of human beings who, if observed acting in the same way anywhere else would probably be certified as insane. Most of us do not usually see inside the capitalists' casino but recent events have placed it in the news and so it was that pictures of the stockbroking timewasters were flashed across our screens. Sometimes a picture is worth more than many words and the images of these fat-salaried gamblers rushing around screaming, waving their arms frantically and looking like they are about to collectively indulge in a drug over-dose, summed up the lunacy of the profit system with a forcefulness that few articles could achieve. How odd it is to think that many of these crazed persons — often only just out of their teens, usually educated in little but the perverse rules of the money game — are paid huge wages for such completely useless toil. Contrast that with the junior doctors shown on World In Action (8.30pm. Monday 26 October, ITV) who are made to work for over 80 hours a week for salaries a fraction of those paid to the Stock Exchange kids. These doctors are employed in hospitals doing some of the dirtiest and most necessary work in society. But they are paid for their labour power and the state is determined to squeeze every drop of energy out of them, even though this means — as a psychologist appointed by the programme was able to show clearly — that the amount of hours worked diminishes their efficiency and leads to needless errors of judgement and sometimes death. In other words it is cheaper for capitalism to let workers die than to reduce the hours that doctors are exploited for.
Starvation in America
It is commonly said that nobody starves in the USA. This, like the statements that the rich work hard for their money and women are never as intelligent as men, is an example of a daft prejudice. The American Documentary entitled Hunger in the Promised Land (11.30pm, 1 November, ITV) left viewers under no illusion: there are workers in the USA who are suffering from malnutrition — not handfuls, but many thousands, probably millions. The programme showed how easy it is for workers to find themselves too poor to buy enough food to live without the permanent pain of hunger. The unemployed, single parent families, pensioners (one in three of whom are officially living in poverty) are those most likely to go hungry in The Land of the Free. We were shown a picture of a Vietnamese family who had gone to the USA for the security of freedom: they had to choose between spending money to pay the medical bills for the father who is dying, or buying food. They endure hunger. What right have these countries which deny free access to food to those who are malnourished to call themselves free? And remember, the USA produces enough food to feed its population several times over. Incidentally, in Toronto, Canada, 50,000 workers are reported to go without enough food to live properly each day. Of these, 61 out of 100 of the workers who appeal for food from charities have had nothing to eat for a full day; a fifth are children under five: "two-thirds of those questioned say. . . they simply don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs". (Toronto Star, 6 October 1987.)
The people’s flag
The above-named series on Channel 4 (Mondays, 11pm) was not a bad attempt at presenting the early history of the Labour Party, although it is pretty obvious that the programme-makers were more than a little influenced by the CP version of working-class history. In the first programme, which traced the rotten story of Labour's opportunist and unprincipled rise from 1906 until 1931, there were some worthwhile historical points made. Unusually, the programme pointed to Keir Hardie s support for the imperialist slaughter in 1914. (This contrasts well with the usual myth that Hardie opposed the world war.) The so-called betrayal by MacDonald was shown to be little more than an extension of the policy of compromise adopted by Labour long before 1931. The programme-makers were historically in error when they referred to the SDF as an anti-imperialist party (in contrast to the ILP). In fact, Hyndman's SDF was fanatically patriotic, supported the British Empire and the expansion of the British navy and in 1914 supported the war. The main omission of this series was the failure to mention even once the existence of the real Socialist Party, formed two years before the Labour Party, and the real bearers of “the people's flag".
A Christmas treat
Christmas Day in your home might be a great event but you can rely on the state to invade the festivities and make you feel miserable and bored. Yes, we are referring to that annual celebration of unrestrained dullness. The Queen's Speech (Christmas day, all channels, TV and radio, just when you're not expecting it). I was reminded of that sickening annual sermon, not only by the recently blasting headlines about the Queen's son getting fed up with living with his wife but by an excellent programme called The Trumpet of Prophecy (9.15pm, 1 November. C4). Paul Foot, the left-wing comedian and trainee Trotsky to Tony Cliff s Lenin, made some interesting points about the great revolutionary poet, Shelley. But Foot's contribution (which sought to depict the poet as an embryonic recruit for a left-wing sect) was the least important part of the programme. The bits which left one feeling really on fire were the extracts from Shelley's poetry which were read by some very impressive actors. So why did seeing Shelley on the box remind me of The Queen's Christmas Dirge? Remember this part from Shelley's Queen Mab?
Whence, think'st thou, kings and parasites arose?
Whence that unnatural fine of drones, who heap
Toil and unvanquishable penury
On those who build their palaces, and bring
Their daily bread? - From vice, black loathsome vice;
From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
From all that genders misery, and makes
Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust.
Revenge and murder . . .
Something to think about while the Royal Drone addresses you.