Saturday, January 9, 2016

We are not inferior (1991)

From the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent death of William Shockley, the American physicist and Nobel prize-winner, has removed from the scene a particularly unpleasant racist. Together with Arthur Jensen, Richard Hernstein, Hans Eysenck and others he argued that working class people and black people were innately intellectually inferior. At one time, and until fairly recently, this was the dominant view but is now largely discredited. But this has not prevented its protagonists from fighting a rearguard battle and denouncing their opponents as "dogmatic egalitarians” and even as "socialist utopians".

According to Jensen social scientists and educators have been indoctrinated to ignore genetics while Hernstein begins his argument for the biological basis of class society by a denunciation of Marxist theory and the socialist alternative. The theorists of the French and American Revolutions are not spared either, with Eysenck taking issue with the egalitarianism of Rousseau and Jefferson, and Hernstein attacking the American Declaration of Independence as well as the Communist Manifesto.

Trying to measure so-called innate intelligence goes back to Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, who wrote a book in 1869 called Hereditary Genius. Galton misapplied Darwin's theory of biological evolution to the evolution of human society and its division into higher and lower classes (as well as to what he considered to be superior and inferior races) and went on record as stating that the eminent families of Great Britain had been selected in the struggle for the survival of the fittest in society because of their biologically superior traits.

Galton's intellectual descendants today have some equally bizarre views. Jensen concentrates on the differences between the average IQ Test scores for Blacks and Whites. Hernstein stresses the different scores obtained by upper and "middle class" children on the one hand and "working class” children on the other. Both attempt to explain these differences in IQ scores on biological, instead of sociological or environmental, grounds.

These theories of the innate inferiority of some group are all based on the view that "intelligence" is innate and fixed. Each of us is supposed to be born with a given amount of intelligence which stays the same throughout our lives; our minds can develop but only up to a certain point, and that point is fixed at birth, or rather at conception. Each person is seen as possessing a given level of intellectual ability and it is this that prevents some from going as far as others.

These theories had practical consequences since until comparatively recently they predominated. The selection of children at 11 under the 1944 Education Act in Britain for one of three kinds of education, for instance, was largely based on the faked IQ findings of Sir Cyril Burt. To this day Eysenck, Hernstein and the others argue that the level of intelligence that pupils will or will not reach has already been basically determined once and for all by their genes, and that schools should therefore be adjusted to sorting out and selecting the "bright" from the "dull" as determined by nature.

This totally ignores the fact that thinking can be taught. In the past thinking, in the sense of formal reasoning, was taught by a more or less spontaneously developed and unconscious method; which led to the belief that thinking either happened or it didn't. Today, however, it is clear that intellectual development is not a fatal process in which the basic learning faculties become more or less fixed by the age of six or seven. It is possible to facilitate the development of intellectual skills in everyone.

IQ Tests don't measure "innate intelligence"; they merely measure the ability of individuals to answer the questions and solve the problems set in IQ Tests. If individuals from some groups do better on average from those in other groups, this is merely a measure either of the different groups’ opportunity to learn to do the tests or of their different attitudes to the sort of things that are being tested.
Michael Ghebre

Economic Crisis in Russia (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current economic crisis in the Soviet Union well illustrates the effect of years of totalitarian state control on a capitalist economy. Having attempted to bring a semblance of order to the anarchic capitalist system, the Soviet Union is now experiencing a devastating period of industrial stagnation and growing unemployment, previously considered unthinkable by its admirers. Gross National Product fell by 4 percent in 1990 and is widely forecast to fall by 10-20 percent this year (Financial Times, 20 August).

The Soviet Union, it was said, could plan away the capitalist trade cycle on the basis of the nationalisation of the economy and the “collectivisation” of agriculture, and ensure steady growth and economic prosperity. But the actual course of events has not proceeded in the way the supporters of the Soviet regime had hoped. There are two basic reasons why this should have been the case.

Firstly—and as the proponents of Western-style private enterprise have always been quick to point out—planning the intricate operations of capitalism down to every investment decision, every price, every wage and so on is impossible. Planning virtually every aspect of economic activity to avoid a disproportionate, unbalanced growth simply cannot be done, and this has been shown through practical experience in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere. Indeed, it must now be obvious to almost anyone, except, that is, to the small band of faithful defenders of centralised state planning, to be found now mostly in the Trotskyist movement, who still insist that planning the profit system through state control is a worthwhile aim. Belgian Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, for one, has recently praised Soviet achievements on planning and balanced growth as the success of a “post-capitalist” society:
From 1928 onwards . . . growth really was regular and uninterrupted (and) that unlike the capitalist economy the USSR has experienced no recession, no crisis of overproduction leading to an absolute fall in production, for more than 60 years.
(International Socialism 49)
Trotskyists like Mandel are looking at the Soviet Union through rose-tinted spectacles, ignoring, for instance, that the difference between growth rates in maximum growth years and minimum growth years in Russia and other state-capitalist countries has been quite pronounced. When the Western capitalist world was experiencing an economic downturn in the period 1966- 74, the difference was 130 percent in the USSR and as much as 228 percent in Poland. Even though offical statistics are not as reliable as they perhaps might be in many instances, it should also be noted that "absolute falls in production” were not a phenomenon restricted to the Western capitalist world.

Law of value
It is undoubtedly the case that state-capitalist economics are unable to escape the capitalist trade cycle, though this is not to suggest that the operation of these economics is identical in all respects to private-enterprise-based capitalism. The primary difference is that state-capitalist economies are not subject to the direct operation of Marx’s law of value, and herein lies the second reason for the current Russian economic crisis.

Very often, prices have not been related to the labour value of commodities and inefficient enterprises have not been purged from the system as they have in the West. The process by which a slump serves as a means to future development for the capitalist economy has not readily applied, at least until now. What has tended to happen in state-capitalist countries is that inefficient enterprises and productive methods have been supported, and wastage often tolerated, with new technology only being introduced at a generally more pedestrian pace than in the West.

In such a situation, the purging benefits of a fully-blown capitalist slump are lost. The state intervenes to offset the development of mass unemployment by methods such as planned overstaffing, largely at the expense of the more efficient sectors. Instead of capital flowing to the most profitable areas of investment, it is redirected on a mass scale towards units of production that would otherwise be purged from the system. Thus there is an attempt to “cheat” the operation of the law of value.

Though some of the worst effects of the capitalist trade cycle can be avoided in this way, this is only achieved at the expense of the long-term health of the economy. Slumps are not aberrations for capitalism, but are entirely necessary for the overall development of the system, helping to offset the long- term tendency for the average rate of profit to fall caused by the displacement of the sole source of surplus value, variable capital (investment in human labour power), by constant capital (investment in machinery, raw materials etc). Slumps offset this tendency by devaluing the elements of constant capital, through, for instance, the destruction of stocks and even machinery.

Because of the attempts in state-capitalist countries to cheat this process of normal capitalist development, stagnation set in. which eventually undermined the stability of the one-party political structure and the position of the privileged ruling class. A more unrestricted capitalism than has hitherto been allowed to operate in the Soviet Union will provide its own solution to the problem of industrial stagnation— mass unemployment as inefficient productive units are allowed to go to the wall, and attacks on working-class living standards to restore profitability for investors. It will come as no surprise that the only “solution” capitalism knows will be of detriment to the interest of the working class.
Dave Perrin

Rio Tinto plunder (1991)

Book Review from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
We don’t grow healthy crops anymore, our traditional customs and values have been disrupted and we have become mere spectators as our earth is being dug-up. taken away and sold for millions. Our land was taken away from us by force: we were blind then but we have finally grown to understand what’s going on”.
These words were spoken by Perpetua Serero in Bouganville, Papua New Guinea, after she and her community were driven off the land which they were dependent on for their livelihoods so as to make way for a potentially highly profitable but environmentally and socially disastrous mine operated by one of the world’s largest multinational mining corporations. Rio Tinto Zinc. Her words are echoed all round the world by thousands of people whose lifestyles and communities have been wrecked by the operations of this company.

In its relentless pursuit of profits Rio Tinto Zinc has left a trail of human and environmental devastation of staggering proportions, as detailed in Plunder published by Partizans (218 Liverpool Rd, London N1 1LE, price £6.50 including postage). This is a thoroughly researched account of how RTZ arrived at and continues to maintain its position of world leader in the mining industry. The book deals with the company’s mining operations in every part of the world and in each section are well-documented examples of the devious, competitive practices that are typical of such capitalist organisations. These include a number of dirty tricks such as brow-beating opponents, leaning on governments, price-fixing, breaking the law, and union- busting.

RTZ claims in its glossy annual report to be “bringing out the best in the world". It even goes so far as to state that it aims to “act responsibly as a steward of the essential resources in its care" and “to involve the local communities wherever it operates and to promote their well-being".

Destroyed communities
Plunder tells a very different story. In its mining operations in over forty different countries. RTZ and its subsidiaries have poisoned the air, the rivers and the land, made species of animals and plants extinct, and turned areas of wild scenic beauty into barren wastelands. Far from promoting the well-being of local communities, RTZ has uprooted and displaced indigenous peoples, destroying their livelihoods and communities. It has turned them into an alienated and unskilled population forced into a lifestyle of abject poverty, prostitution, alcohol abuse and crime. In other words, they are forced into a life of wage-slavery at its bottom-most level.

RTZ has disregarded health and safety standards, causing the deaths over the years of hundreds and possibly thousands of workers from dust and radiation related diseases. Many of its workers, as in the case of the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia are expected to live in accommodation described as the worst in the world. RTZ also has a long record of trying to prevent workers organising trade unions. For instance, in 1937 the company Chairman was able to report to the shareholders in London on the tense labour situation at the company’s mines in Spain: “Since the mining region was occupied by General Franco’s forces there have been no further labour problems . . . Miners found guilty of troublemaking are court-martialled and shot".

However, Plunder is more than just an account of the nefarious activities of a mining company. It is also a resource book by and about people fighting for their lives, their communities and their environment against the profit-seeking onslaught of just one of the many multinational giants who constitute the very machinery of the capitalist system. The book represents the cooperative efforts of many individuals, organisations and communities around the world brought together by Partizans (People Against RioTinto Zinc and its Subsidiaries) who published the book at their own expense. The text written by Roger Moody is based on research and contributions by people from indigenous communities. trade unions, organisations concerned with the environment and occupational health, and many others. It has been published with the intention of being a handbook for people confronting multinational mining companies, particularly more isolated communities with little experience of the dirty business of capitalism and perhaps unaware that others are in the same situation as them.

Global solidarity
For Socialists Plunder is a valuable book in the battle of ideas. Firstly, because it represents a wealth of evidence to show that the profit system cannot be run in the interests of working people and their environment. Secondly and more importantly, because it has grown out of a vision that global solidarity is the only way to bring about an end to this exploitative global system.

In Plunder we hear the voices of people who are aware that RTZ has only one driving force behind it, the profit motive. The indigenous communities involved in the battle against RTZ bring to the class struggle a sense of communal responsibility to each other and the world around them as well as a sense of individual self-respect. To some of these communities property and hierarchical social organisations are alien concepts. Their experience of alternative lifestyles based on mutual respect and responsibility for the land on which they depend for their living imbues their resistance with a inner strength the importance of which we should not ignore or deny.

The struggles of these communities serve as a reminder that socialism is about knowing that an alternative to capitalist society is possible and that we can bring it about by understanding the source of our oppression and acting in a spirit of comradeship and solidarity with our fellow workers throughout the world.
Kerima Mohideen

What next for Yugoslavia? (1991)

From the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

When I was at school over forty years ago we were told in our history classes how a young South Slav nationalist, Gavrilo Princep, by assassinating Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, had triggered off (1 seem to remember "caused" was the word used) the entire first world war. Whilst not denying a role for such melodramatic gestures, Marxian critics of the capitalist system and its persistent drive to war were never convinced that the enormous conflict that ensued had such a Ruritanian root-cause. It was, instead, the culmination of a lengthy period of economic rivalry between, on the one hand, the established powers such as France and Britain with their imperial systems of guaranteed markets and cheap sources of labour and raw materials and, on the other, the thwarted ambitions of capitalist late-comers Germany and Austria-Hungary.


Woodrow Wilson redraws the map
Following the armistice in 1918, Americas President Wilson acted upon the new super-power status of the USA by redrawing the map of Europe consequent upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires. A key figure of the new pattern of states was the very Yugoslavia that Princep had heralded. The new entity cobbled together some diverse areas at highly varied levels of economic and social development which had in common that most of the kingdom's new subjects spoke one or other related Slav language. On the other hand they were divided by the fact that the Slovenes and Croats had for centuries formed part of the Catholic society of the Austro-Hungarian Empire whereas the Serbs, Kossovo Albanians, Macedonians, and the Bosnian three-way mix of Catholics, Serbian Orthodox and Moslems, reflected the five centuries of Ottoman Turkish domination that they had undergone. Even the essentially common language of the Serbs and Croats was deeply marked by the differing impacts upon it of Eastern and Western influences. In Croatia the language is written in Roman script. Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians write in Cyrillic derived from Greek.

The lack of a common spoken and written language was a major handicap in the development of modern state institutions and in the inter-war years the Serbs, who were the largest ethnic group, were felt by the other elements of the population to exercise far too strong an influence over the kingdom as a whole, especially as the royal family was Serbian. Tito, the post-WWII dictator, took steps to unify Serbo-Croat. This required concessions on the part of both wings of the language. The Serbs had to forgo the use of Cyrillic in those publications brought out in the unified format. However, where variations of grammar or vocabulary needed to be reconciled the Serbian form prevailed. To the more bigoted elements none of the sacrifices could be regarded as acceptable, but educational institutions budgeting for the publication of engineering or medical textbooks of limited circulation were soon to see the merits of the new approach.

Interestingly enough, our political cousins in the USA, the SLP, grappled with this problem in trying to spread the socialist message amongst Balkan immigrants whose settlement was especially concentrated in the Ohio area. Certainly it would be some time before propaganda couched in English would well be understood. But the limited funds of a working-class organisation could hardly run to printing separate publications and pamphlets in two scripts and several South Slav languages including Bulgarian. So perhaps forty-odd years before Tito’s similar efforts with all the assistance of the state-machine and paid academics, a parallel development was brought about by the voluntary efforts of mostly self-educated working men and women.

Austro-Marxism
The Allies’ Wilsonian carve-up of the former empires bore little relation to the over-riding economic practicalities. For example, Czechoslovakia which joined together in an independent republic the Bohemians, Moravians, Slovaks, and Ruthenes (Ukrainians) of the old Austria was said to have inherited a railway network which went from nowhere to nowhere. The Danube basin which has its own natural unity was split between the new Austrian Republic, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. Yugoslavia, Rumania and Bulgaria.

Prior to 1914 the quasi-Marxist Austrian Social-Democrats had engaged in a decade of more of furious debate on the National Question and the socialist attitude towards it. It was evident that a situation which condemned millions of people to gaining literacy, military service and employment in a “foreign" language was cause for real dissatisfaction and resentment. It is also the case that several embryonic capitalist ruling groups in the region were eager and assiduous in fomenting and harnessing these genuine concerns, so divisive of working-class unity, to further their own class interests. In these debates the classic Austro-Marxist school of socialist thought well argued the supra-national, common interests of workers as workers, whilst at the same time accepting as valid the desire for linguistic freedom of choice.

Sadly, the outlook of the majority of Social Democrats was as backward in this regard as in most other respects and Czech, Croat, Hungarian and Rumanian sections of the movement were overwhelmingly in favour of setting up new frontiers rather than getting rid of old ones. Nor should it be thought that the bulk of German-speaking Social Democrats were any different; they too. equally sadly, proved to be imbued with nationalist ideas.

Inter-war Yugoslavia was a shaky construct, highly vulnerable to all the pressures of thrusting German and Italian capitalism and the lure of Russia's socialist pretensions to a population of workers and peasants coping with the harsh effects of the world slump, massive inflation and the rise of fascism. When the Nazis launched their “Drang nach Osten” and their quest for “Lebensraum" Yugoslavia, with all its internal strife, fell easy prey to the invaders.

The resistance movements which the German and Italian occupying armies brought into being strongly reflected the fiercely divergent elements of Yugoslav society. Tito (a Croat, it is worth remembering) led the most effective guerrilla army which, although operating under a Bolshevik ideology, was virtually the only instance in Axis-occupied East Europe of such a movement achieving victory largely without the aid of the Red Army.

In view of the relatively minor pre-war role of Belgrade’s Communist Party it is not surprising that in the early stages of the occupation the principal resistance movement, led by Draza Mihajlovic, reflected the mainstream conservative, monarchist. Serbian majority. The existence of rival underground armies posed a dilemma for Winston Churchill and the Allied strategists, so Captain Fitzroy Maclean was parachuted into the occupied country to assess the fighting potential of the separate resistance forces. With remarkable timeliness his book of wartime adventures. Eastern Approaches, has just been republished in paperback. No doubt there were quite a few true-blue British Tories who were deeply shocked when Churchill took Maclean’s advice, ceased supplying arms to Mihajlovic’s Chetniks and began aiding the "Communist” partizans instead.

The Chetniks. who had been fighting on two fronts against the Wehrmacht and the Partizans. were forced by this policy into increased collaboration with the Germans. Tito’s forces went from strength to strength. The clerical-fascist puppet state set up in Croatia drew widespread support for their militia, the feared Ustashe, but their fate was tied up with that of their Nazi masters. Another element which tended to side with the Germans were the Muslims. World War I memories of the Turkish alliance with Berlin played a part, as did fond recollections of German sponsorship of Enver Pasha's schemes for gathering together all the Turkic lands within the Russian Empire of the Tsars and joining them with Turkey in a "Pan-Turanian Empire" under German tutelage. Just as Franco’s use of Moroccan troops in the Nationalist offensive against the Republic brought out all the racist and Christian prejudices of the man in the Spanish street, Serbian Orthodox and Catholics see mirrored in every Yugoslav Moslem “five hundred years of the Turkish yoke", although by far the greater part of these are descended from Slav converts rather than from Turkish settlers

Those who have been watching blow-by-blow accounts of recent violent incidents on TV bulletins from Slovenia and Croatia might see disturbing analogies with the earlier events referred to above. A united Germany shows all the signs of re-asserting its hegemony over Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Armed thugs create mayhem amongst people of the other ethnic group. Already the Serbian irregulars are willing to be known, even proudly call themselves, Chetniks. More hesitantly, Croatian auxiliaries are accepting the label being given to them of Ustashe. However, the authorities in Zagreb are keen to maintain their democratic credentials (like Hitler they came to power through elections) as they cannot easily afford to alienate the goodwill of Common Market governments or public opinion. After all, the number of Yugoslav "guest workers” in Germany is second only to the two million Turkish workers there. A good proportion of these “Gastarbeitern" are from Croatia and their cash remittances home are no small consideration in the minds of the economic planners.

Mention of Slovenia may remind some readers of a speaker from our Hyde Park platform in the late fifties. In those days the fact that he was a Slovene was regarded as less noteworthy than that he came from Yugoslavia and wished to repudiate their false claims to being some kind of socialist society with "workers self-management". The excellence of his arguments was marred a little by his hesitant English but, on the other hand, it did wonders for our efforts to put over the World Socialist perspective of a world without states in which linguistic freedom of choice will be a matter of course
Eddie Grant

The last story (1991)

A Short Story from the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Janet had bought a sponge cake, added a lighted candle and, with a couple of bottles of awful wine, had conjured up an office party for Neb's sixtieth birthday party. 'Upstairs'—the Tribune's Group Chairman—was "in residence", as the staff called it when the multi-millionaire proprietor of the paper was in town for a few days and making a nuisance of himself. Neb, whose nickname was derived from his youthful days as a reporter when, it was said, he could smell a story, enjoyed the intimacy of his colleagues, and even the contribution 'Upstairs' made, in the form of a patronising panegyric to the past talents of his editor-in-chief, failed to impinge on his cheerful mood.

That was yesterday. The evening had brought the loneliness of his five-year widowhood, concentrated, on this day, in the realisation that the meaningful part of his life had been lived. Its milestones were headlines, scoops and stories that, in his later years, had made his comfortable face one of the better known, if unlabelled, countenances on TV. In the pub, later, he reflected that ‘Upstairs’ was right; his greatness was in the past. Grogan, his ambitious deputy, knew that, too; it showed in his growing insolence and his readiness, now, to dispute Neb's decisions. It was the newsman's moment of truth: the realisation that he would never again by-line a story that would cause a TV producer to ring his office. Death, he speculated abstractly, begins its run-in by isolating its victims.

It was simply loneliness, a desire to be with, even anonymous others, that brought him into the Lindsay Rooms, invited by the sign outside that said someone who allegedly knew about these things was going to speak about 'WORLD HUNGER AND ITS CAUSE’. His reporter’s mind scanned the speaker’s voice, cogitated the over-burdening statistics and, already he was seeing the words on the screen of his desk VDU—the words that would combine in the most dramatic story he had ever written because it encompassed what we saw as greed, crime and the needless destruction of human life on a scale that beggared belief. Only briefly, did his mind picture the interior of the Press Gallery television studio. No. Comfortingly, Neb experienced the desire to tell a story for its own sake; just to tell people.

He had not written it well. He knew that. The old journalistic tricks, the catchphrases, the smart alliteration . . . he had discarded them as they presented themselves. Vulgar. Lewdness in a graveyard. Probably the most staid piece he had ever written. But what a story! What an unsurpassed indictment of whatever it was that allowed this awful thing to happen—to happen every single day!

Still, when he entered the conference room for the “shake-out”, as the meeting that finalised the major content of the first edition of each evening Tribune was known, he was dismayed to find ‘Upstairs’ ensconced in his, Neb’s, chair at the top of the long editorial table. Grogan, pulsating energy, chatted obsequiously to the Chairman.

“What have we got?" Grogan always started the proceedings but. this time, without looking at Neb, he took his cue from ‘Upstairs’. He answered his own question: "Art's got the front lead, I think. It’s costing, but with pictures, we’ll have a middle spread as well”. Janet came into the room and automatically went to the top chair. ’Upstairs' had the fax in his hand before she realised Neb was not in his usual place. There was a deferential silence in response to the Chairman’s raised hand. "This might be your lead, Neb: Sir Kenneth Cornell, Chairman of Sprucefield—I knew him well—and three others killed . . .  Company jet, going to Glasgow".

Grogan spoke directly to ‘Upstairs’, "Art’s is good, Sir, the pop singer. Melanie . . . pregnant. Claims she was screwed by one of the royals’’.

"Here's our lead!", Neb’s voice cut through the muttered buzz of vulgarity. It was a declaration and all heads turned expectantly. In the silence, his voice grated and, as he read, he thought how differently he would have written it if he had known the Chairman was going to be there.

“Banner: 40,000 CHILDREN MURDERED BY ECONOMICS! Lead in: Yesterday 40,000 children died because economics—the way we organise production and distribution in our world—could not afford about six thousand pounds’ worth of food and medicine to keep them alive”. His eyes swept around the table: the others were dumbfounded, staring. Desperately, in an effort to get them to hear, he started paraphrasing his material. "Yesterday, economics spent £220,000,000 worldwide on its armed forces and armaments—it does that every day and every day it sacrifices thousands of human lives to hunger. Economics destroys food . . . makes the land legislatively barren to preserve market stability. There’s nothing out there to equal the gravity of this daily crime . . .Wars . . . Disasters . . . Royal screwings. There’s nothing to equal the gravity of this crime". ’Upstairs' said, angrily, “Neb ", and limply he heard himself saying: "For Christ's sake, we’re supposed to inform the public . . ."

‘Upstairs’ slapped his palm noisily on the table. "Alright, Neb. Alright! We’ll go up to my office”. He turned to Grogan. "That whore . . . What's her name? Melanie? That’s a good lead story with the Royal bit. I’ll give you material for an appreciation of Sir Kenneth. I just can’t get over that terrible air tragedy—box it big on the front page”.

Neb got up from the table. He twisted the paper in his hand and threw it into the wastepaper basket. He knew that was his last story.
Richard Montague




Sting in the Tail: Send for Jeeves (1991)

The Sting in the Tail Column from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Send for Jeeves
The characters of P.G. Wodehouse may seem a little outdated, but the useless, luxurious lives of the very rich don't seem to have changed all that much since the days of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

Patrick Davison, a butler to the millionaire George Soros, recently won his case for unfair dismissal; and in reporting the tribunal the newspapers revealed a little of the outrageous life-style of the rich in Britain today. The butler insisted to Mrs Miriam Sanchez, a recently appointed chef, that she use less expensive wines when preparing her gourmet meals.
But Mrs Sanchez complained to Mr Soros's wife Susan, got her own way, and began to use Chateau Lafite wines costing between £400 and £500 a bottle
Glasgow Herald 8 May
All lovers of haute cuisine will be delighted that the present economic slump is not affecting the high standards of the Soros household.


Unkindest Cut of All
At the Scottish Tory Party conference in Perth last month you could hear some remarkable nonsense, but it is doubtful if any of the delegates could have topped the nutty ideas of that foolish fop Mr Nicholas Fairbairn MP.

When not grabbing the headlines of the gutter press with his eccentric notions of sartorial elegance (he once appeared at Buckingham Palace in a tartan three piece suit that made him look like a demented Bay City Roller fan) he thunders forth on such issues as World Hunger.
In Africa, they are being encouraged to have more children. I feel there should be more sterilisation programmes by these governments and It should be a world-wide priority.
Glasgow Herald 10 May
Like many politicians Fairbairn believes that World Hunger is caused by too many people. He of course does not take the socialist view that this planet is capable of feeding all the world's population if we had production for use instead of production for profit.

Sterilisation as a solution to World Hunger is stupid. Although it is a pity perhaps that Fairbairn's father hadn't been a volunteer for such a programme.


Dead Leninism
We forked out the £1.80 to buy the May Issue of "Living Marxism", the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

The contents quickly reveal the RCP as yet another bunch of Leninists when, for example, we read about the alleged need for
... arming a minority with an understanding of the necessity for social change...
Of course there's not one word about what the social change is to be, merely a mention of "a new society".

But why only a minority, why not a majority? Well, being Leninists they certainly don't want THAT!

After all, if the majority saw the necessity for real social change by replacing capitalism with a world-wide society based on common ownership and democratic control then there wouldn't be any place for Leninist leaders, would there?


Thieves Fall Out
The Institute of Directors has been described as the Tory Party at lunch but now its director general has fallen out with the government.

Peter Morgan told the Institute's annual conference:
This awful recession . . .  is a failure of government management. It is government failure, not market failure.
The Guardian 24 April
Morgan imagines that if the government had followed policies approved by him then the recession would have been avoided. He is wrong. No matter what policies governments pursue, the normal boom - slump cycle of capitalism cannot be avoided.

But he was right about the relationship between inflation and wages when he blamed the government for "high wage settlements".
I have absolutely no doubt that inflation causes high settlements and not, categorically not, the other way around.
Remember this the next time you hear about "inflationary wage rises"


May Day Mayhem
May Day in Glasgow was fine and sunny but the number of marchers continues to decline. The main speaker at the official rally on Glasgow Green was a trade union leader but his meeting attracted fewer people than the beer tent did.

One fringe activity was a platform on which every leftist group was invited to speak. And so they did but often only to slag off one another.

For example, a Trotskyist attacked "the Stalinists" and was immediately denounced by an anarchist for supporting Trotsky, "the butcher of Kronstadt".

Some speakers urged trade union action while others were hostile to this, but all were united in hammering the Labour Party although most still wanted to "get the Tories out" and "a real Labour government in".

Incidentally, the big demand from the organisers of this meeting was ... the reinstatement of the demoted curator of the People's Palace Museum!

Meanwhile, Glasgow branch members of the Socialist Party set out their literature and, despite the surrounding din, held a brief meeting. That, we can swear, was the only occasion when anything about socialism was allowed to intrude during the whole afternoon.


Don't All Rush
Fancy a des res with "unrivalled view" over Kensington Palace Gardens? This apartment has polished marble floors throughout, four reception rooms, four bedrooms each with bathroom en suite, and has Prince Charles as a near neighbour. (ITN News 10 May).

And because the market is at rock bottom it's yours for a giveaway £13 million. This includes antique furniture worth £1 million but a discount can be arranged should you wish the apartment unfurnished.

Still not sure? Well, this residential block is so exclusive that its development officer thinks the apartment will go to the type of person “who needs a home in all the major capitals".

You'll think about it? Yes, that's just about all workers can ever do about capitalism's extravagances.


The Blackboard Jungle
A good example of the Tory Party's idea of open government was explained in The Independent on 13 May, in reporting how the government dealt with critical reports from the school Inspectorate on the state of education. 
The Government found such criticism embarrassing. In 1987 it held back the Chief Inspector's report until after the general election. Only after the election did the public find out about the large increase in unfilled teacher vacancies, the crumbling classrooms and the great divide between schools where parents could afford to buy textbooks and those who could not.
It is heartening that some Tory MPs are eager to avoid this dishonesty - they are proposing a bill to abolish the inspectorate!



Marxism and Literature (1991)

Book Reviews from the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Engels once commented that he learned more about history by reading the novels of Balzac than the historians ever told him. Literature is part of history; it reflects and contributes to its struggles, even if that is not the writer's intention. In The Ideology of the Text (Open University Press. £8.99) Christopher Hampton launches a timely assault upon those who seek to explain literature purely in terms of the words contained within texts, as if these can be extricated from historical motion and converted into “pure” literary form. Hampton exposes such theories as being:
in essence a refutation of the Marxist position, which takes its stand on the assumption that there are pre-existent material conditions which we can identify and relate to. and which determine the ways in which we act and think and feel.
The “mystificatory detachment" of the post-modernist critics is seen by Hampton as an excuse by which critics opt out of the necessity of explaining the texts of literature in terms of their ideological status—the sense in which they express the class consciousness either of the oppressor or the oppressed.

He looks at a number of important writers (Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Arnold, Morris) and attempts to treat the crucial question of how to decide their ideological colour. Shakespeare, for example, is seen as so much a part of the established English cultural institutions that quite absurd readings of his plays have emerged; Hampton cites G. Wilson Knight's use of Cranmer’s speech at the end of Henry VIII as justification for his support of the Falklands War. A remarkably good historical contextualisation of Shakespeare's writings is offered, a reading of which alone justifies the purchase or loan of this book.

Again, the treatment of the poetry of William Blake is fought for against those who would confine such texts to the history of harmless Christian prophecies. Blake, it is argued, made the historically crucial and ideologically distinctive choice to reject the pessimism of so many other poets—many of whom justified their right to call themselves poets by their unceasing miserableness. In the case of Blake, writes Hampton.
Though his world did its best, callously and indifferently. to break him, it failed. He was not a pessimist. He saw the world as it was, but he was not content to accept it as it was; for he saw it as it could be.
Substantiation of this assertion is abundantly provided. More than most, a writer who saw the world as it could become was the revolutionary socialist, William Morris. Hampton concludes that:
Today, the kinds of questions Morris asked about the destructive conditions of his time have not lost their urgency. However changed the particular circumstances that govern our lives in the late twentieth century, we still live under the domination of a capitalist economy which functions by feeding off the common wealth of the people and by imposing restrictive and stunting conditions upon them.
It is a cause for celebration that a writer of Hampton’s ability is throwing his weight behind the cause of clear Marxian analysis, and that, in the spirit of Marx, his book serves not merely to explain literature but to use it as a springboard to political action.

Revolutionary writings
Too many people who think of themselves as “Writers” and “Authors" place themselves in the precious literary arena where they feel they must be insulated from the filth of political ideas. As Hampton says, this luxury is not available to writers: those who are not with us are for them. John Graham has edited an excellent anthology of writings by those who were not afraid to contaminate their pens with the stains of class struggle. Yours For The Revolution (University of Nebraska Press) is about The Appeal to Reason, a newspaper which was published in Kansas between 1895 and 1922. Graham offers an interesting historical introduction to the newspaper, although he over-emphasises the journal’s socialist claims. In effect, it was a mish-mash of mainly reformist alongside some highly revolutionary writings. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was first serialised in The Appeal To Reason and Debs was a frequent contributor. Compared to the more solidly Marxian writings of De Leon, the pieces by Debs are rather tame, although the equal of anyone in terms of fiery rhetoric. The anthology contains some truly moving pieces; from Helen Keller, Mother Jones, Jack London as well as the individualistic editor, J. A. Wayland.

There is one letter which particularly moved the present writer: from a worker who was poor and ill and resolved to end his life and send what remained of his money to the journal that he had spent years trying to sell to workers. In “His Last Letter’ (as the piece was entitled) the anonymous writer urges readers. "I pray and beg of you to be of good cheer and courage. Do not fear to own the cause or blush to speak the name. If you can’t talk (nearly all persons can if they will try) you can do a world of good by distributing literature. Don’t let'em rest until such barbarous customs are completely abolished . . . Our principles cannot be refuted, for Right is on our side and we are bound to succeed . . .” Of course, the movement which he died supporting did not succeed, and only on the basis of revolutionary consciousness could success come. Those interested in the all-too-frequently neglected history of the American working-class movement should read this anthology.

Far from succeeding, in many ways there have been years of awful failure following the days of the Wobblies and The Appeal to Reason. In the USA the trade union movement has fallen prey to the organised bandits who have used it for their own corrupt purposes. Dan La Botz’s Rank and File Rebellion (Verso) tells the story, which has been ignored by the British media, of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and their efforts to wrest control of their union from bureaucratic leaders of the Jimmy Hoffa variety. The book makes compelling reading. If you did not think that there were militantly-minded wage slaves in the USA, then this book will open your eyes. The modern Teamsters’ movement understands the importance of democracy to working-class organisation and that is a vital lesson (not to understand only in theory, but in practical activity). They could do worse than to turn to Yours For The Revolution to learn that, as well as democracy, the workers need to be organised to a purpose: the abolition of the wages system.
Steve Coleman


Barbarians at the gate (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the United States and to a lesser extent in Britain, university departments in the Humanities (Classics, Literature, Languages, History, Philosophy, etc.) are emptying of both students and teachers. Education is giving way to what is in effect vocational training: Business Studies, Law, and Medicine. Scientists are disappearing down tunnels of specialisation, unable to communicate even with each other. Twenty percent of all American students are choosing economics since this is seen as the way to make the most money. The best-paid jobs for scientists are in armaments or patent medicine. The barbarians are at the gate.

None of this is new. Alarm at the state of scholarship has been voiced for most of the century. The extension of higher education to members of the working class has been blamed for the trend by some—“More Means Worse"—particularly in Britain after the 1944 Education Act. In the United States such critics blame the upheavals of the Sixties and positive discrimination in favour of women and blacks.

The majority view has been that the malaise goes deeper and has been around a lot longer than these phenomena. "The World's Classics Compressed Into A Few Chapters” was satirised by the Canadian Stephen Leacock in the thirties. Others winced at Readers' Digest, The Five Foot Shelf Of Books (specify your colours), potted literature, “crackerbarrel philosophy", homogenized culture, pasteurised art. Great Thoughts of Great Men, etc.

In England the novelist Richard Aldington had complained that the best poets had gone into advertising. “Phyllo-san fortifies the over forties!" was a better piece of alliteration than could be found in any literary review and "My Goodness, My Guinness!" was nearly as good.

Whine of muzak
We should not be surprised at this, nor at the fact that most artistic and musical creativity is being put to the task of selling soap powder and toilet paper, chocolate bars and preparations to make your armpits charmpits. Talented men and women are discovering fulfilment in drawing Noddy characters and training articulate monkeys to urge us that life will not be complete without this or that product. The whine of muzak from some twentieth century Mozart follows us round the supermarket and the pop-music industry goes through its weekly production cycle.

A third of the American population is said to be functionally illiterate. In Britain Peter Morgan, director general of the Institute of Directors, has complained that 60 percent of British children leave school at sixteen—and two-thirds of them without any academic qualifications. We could add that the only literature any of them are likely to have come into contact with is advertising jingles. It does not seem to occur to him either that a market-dominated world is unlikely to produce a different result. He refers to continental Europe where a marginally happier situation reigns, but we should expect similar economic conditions to produce similar results in the long run. Cultural traditions there have put drag chains on the slide to barbarism—as they have in Scotland—but one would have to be a real optimist to hope for the future of education.

The problem lies in the collision between human values and the scientific market-directed machine which is colonising every aspect of our private worlds, cultural, intellectual, and emotional. The application of cost-benefit analysis to tastes like plaster-ducks-on-the-wall versus Michaelangelo’s David, or Gandhi versus Heinrich Himmler, or the Good Samaritan versus Ariel Sharon can only lead to the conclusion that a little of what you fancy does you good. Eating people is not wrong, just a matter of taste.

Market madhouse
Since the 1920s the Frankfurt School in Germany—Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, Lukács, Habermas—and, more recently, the post-war Paris thinkers like Castoriadis and André Gorz have tried to deal with the crisis this has created in philosophy. The spreading application of the criteria of the physical sciences to non-physical things, like taste and goodness, has cut the ground from under the philosophers. If they can't be measured, the argument goes, they are nonsense at worst, and a mere grunt of pleasure or squeal of pain at best.

One conservative critic, the American professor Allan Bloom in his The Closing of the American Mind, has written of the fate of those condemned to trying "to find their way through the technical smorgasbord of the current school system, with its utter inability to distinguish between the important and unimportant in any way other than by the demands of the market".

If he thinks deeply about that last clause, he might be able to add his bit to the efforts of those of us who are trying to find our way not only through the crisis-ridden school system but out of the market-dominated madhouse we inhabit as well.
Ken Smith

Gorbachev clamps down (1991)

From the March 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Western politicians and pundits have been puzzled by Golden Boy Gorbachev. The man Mrs Thatcher thought she could “do business with" turns out to be slaughtering unarmed civilians in Latvia and Lithuania. How should we read Gorbachev—a great reformer or a reactionary? Or is he a Jekyll and Hydc character, who veers from reform to repression whenever the wind changes?

The change in Gorbachev's policies can be understood if you remember that he is a loyal Leninist, an opportunist, with a firm belief in the CPSU’s "vanguard” role. And like Lenin, he faces acute economic problems.

A serious balance of payments gap has been developing since about 1985, particularly where trade with “developed capitalist” countries is concerned. Also since then, state spending has exceeded revenue each year, and this budget deficit has been rising steeply. 

Leninist dictator
From 1989 Gorbachev was on the defensive. Opposition to perestroika—his vague, incomplete, ever-shifting reform package which threatened the interests of planners and managers—became increasingly vocal. Again and again he protested that he really was a true orthodox, an heir of Lenin:
Lenin is our guide to action . . . (in) the task of restoring the authority of Marxist thought . . .  the theory of Marxism- Leninism . . . (The Party’s) role is to serve as Soviet society’s vanguard.
(Pravda, 26 November 1989).
Then, as the Soviet Union threatened to split, with mass rallies, strikes, army discontent. civil strife, the growth of separatist ethnic and nationalist movements, and worsening economic chaos. Gorbachov followed the Leninist logic: he became a dictator in all but name.

The idea of "presidential power” was promoted by his friend Shevadnardze at the Central Committee meeting in February 1990. The following month Gorbachev became President of the Soviet Union, unelected except by apparatchiks. Almost at once, he issued a decree enabling him to declare a state of emergency. This meant that as President of the Soviet Union he could introduce temporary presidential rule, suspending state administrative and elected bodies, replacing their personnel with his own nominees.

Then in April he got the Supreme Soviet to pass a law to protect his “honour and dignity” and a law about the “maintenance, services and protection” which the bankrupt state was to provide for its sensitive president. Upon retirement, he is guaranteed a large pension, plus a state dacha "and necessary services" (Is this a euphemism for servants or does it mean simply hot and cold running water, mains drainage and electricity?) The state would also provide transport—and protection. This last point is not surprising. Like Mrs Thatcher, Gorbachev’s popularity was for export only. Those carefully staged walkabouts in Siberia were a long-time ago: his limousine now has bullet-proof windows.

To the Western media Gorbachev seems to be a man in tune with his people. Yet an opinion poll last year showed that only 6 percent of people had confidence in "Marxism-Leninism", and only 4 percent felt confidence in the CPSU, the vanguard party, while 50 percent declared they were opposed to concentrating power in one person (Argumenty i Fakty).

Special powers
Yet. in September last year, Gorbachev took on "special powers” for 18 months to establish economic reform, and law and order. It was Lenin who said "no essential contradiction can exist between the Soviet, that is, the socialist democracy and the exercise of dictatorial power by a single person". And Lenin was Gorbachev’s mentor. You have been warned.

The Gorbachev years of economic chaos, political indecision and stalemate in his power struggle with the Party-state bureaucracy have seen a growth in chauvinism, nationalism, anti-semitism. and savage ethnic conflicts, to the point where there is even a fear of civil war. On the political scene, there are literally hundreds of groups, factions, parties and fronts, some of them with over-lapping membership, most with ill-defined platforms, few with a mass following, and none of them, we suspect, having any concern about abolishing the wages system. Meanwhile, for ordinary folk, the struggle just to feed the family has become worse than anyone can remember—except those in Leningrad in World War Two.

As for glasnost, or openness, well, censorship is still at work. After Chernobyl censorship and state secrecy combined to suppress information about radiation hotspots and sickness. In 1989 Glavlit gave approval for the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s story Matryona's House but, after it was typeset, the censor pulled it. The editor of Argumenty i Fakty has complained of pressures, from Gorbachev, urging him to play down embarrassing issues. More recently, a serious TV current affairs programme (Vzglyad) was taken off the air, to suppress a filmed discussion about Shevadnardze’s reasons for resignation: his fears that the country was heading for dictatorship.

Socialists are not concerned about the fate of Gorbachev but we do welcome the opening-up of political debate as offering workers the opportunity to develop a socialist organisation, even if this is not going to be easy in the welter of monarchist, nationalist and liberal groups, in a land where Marx’s name is invariably coupled with that of Lenin and where “socialism” is thought of as inefficient, corrupt, totalitarian state capitalism.
C. Skelton