Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Film: Juliet of the Spirits (1966)

Film Review from the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Juliet of the Spirits, directed by Federico Fellini 

We have scarcely settled in our seats when we are transported into a magic garden. The lush vegetation parts and we gaze on to what appears to be a house of the type to be seen in every very posh area, but which on later reflection we realise to be a very pale imitation of an ancient feudal manorial castle set in its own grounds. As if to emphasise this point, the next scene is set inside the “battlements" and we see the lady of the house surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting attending to her toilette. Great emphasis is given these early scenes and we are left in no doubt of the deliberate play on the analogy between the feudal ruling elements and our latter day parasites.

What are we discussing? Frederico Fellini’s latest film Juliet of the Spirits. Fellini, who has made such films as La Strada, La Dolce Vita and “’ must command the attention of those wishing to take a very close and keen look at the world they are living in. For this is precisely what Fellini has done. His skill lies not just in his techniques of film making, but more precisely on his penetrative insight into human behaviour and its background of the modern day capitalist world with its money grabbing ambience of privilege and deprivation, wealth and poverty, power and impotence.

In particular, Fellini sets his films in Italy, and he conveys with Goyaesque flashes of insight the upper crust of Italian capitalist society, with its pimps, gigolos, sycophants and hangers-on of every type and description, their idle chatter, their endless quest for amusement and diversion to still the boredom of useless and inactive lives, their constant almost diseased preoccupation with their bodily needs and desires, sex rating only second to food. But Fellini makes clear the universal application of his searing indictment (and this has occurred in all his latest films) by the introduction of the same brand of parasitical element from other countries all over the world, each with their own characteristic “national" qualities with particular reference to France, England and the U.S.A.

Is there a particular socialist appraisal of this man’s work? There can be no doubt that there is. Underlying all the situations and characters appearing in Fellini's films, is the class divided society of capitalism which is universal in the world today, and in which virtually every human being in the world is involved in one way or another. Fellini does not search in the heavens or in some mysterious recess of the human psyche to explain why people talk and behave as they do. He searches, and finds ample cause for investigation in, their immediate environs, that is in their economic and social background.

Guilietta, the central figure in Juliet of the Spirits, and of the flimsy plot on which Fellini hangs his work, is a middle-aged woman married to a wealthy man whose source of wealth is indeterminate but substantial. He brings home with him one evening a coterie of friends, a motley crowd who obviously represent a spectrum of the upper crust and their parvenus. Their behaviour, talk and manners would be more suited to the circus floor, not to be too unkind to the undoubted talents of circus artists. Throughout the film this crew or their indistinguishable next-door neighbours flit across the screen in one scene or another and in situation after situation, as if Fellini is determined that we shall not be allowed to forget the follies and foibles of our so-called betters.

Our hero husband is no longer sexually interested in his wife, and he has attached himself to more attractive mettle, but presumably he must keep in line with bourgeois family morality, so he dissembles as best he can to his wife. She, simple soul that she is, having had a stern religious upbringing, takes a little time to cotton on. On the urgent advice of her sister, a lesser innocent, she puts the matter into the hands of a detective agency. The meeting at the detective’s office is a brilliant microcosm of every solicitor’s and lawyer’s office where the sordid facts are covered over with sugared words, double-entendres and hypocritical pretensions. The bill, with its lengthy logistics, is never presented . . .  till the end. Although she is a woman fully acclimatised to the corruption and double faced morality of her class, our heroine sits through it all apparently mute and unbelieving.

All in all, the character and behaviour of our heroine seems to be at odds with her class background. This in possibly the weak point of the film. The spirits mentioned in the title of the film are those which Guilietta finds herself subjectively tormented by. Whether this is just a useful peg on which Fellini hangs some brilliant scenes, or whether they have other subtle purposes, is difficult to determine. In any event, we are continuously led back to the real world around us and all the film’s characters never cease to be palpable and tangible. In other words, Fellini, the arch realist, is having a little game. Poetic licence, no doubt. Those who have seen La Dolce Vita may be disappointed. There is not the fierce clarity and relentless exposure of every aspect of our society, high and low.

In his earlier films, the Socialist could draw his conclusions clearly. Now it is no longer so. Perhaps Fellini has mixed too much among the higher circles which he describes with such devastating accuracy. Has he forgotten the wider world that he depicted, for example, with such compassion in La Strada?
Max Judd

Selling an image (1986)

From the November 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The sheer scale of advertising is intended to create the impression of an abundance and is aimed at convincing workers—as consumers—that organised, orderly buying and selling is the only method available for distributing products on a fair and equal basis. Advertising, as an industry, is not just in the business of purely selling commodities for it also specialises in reinforcing the values and dominant ideas of class society. But although the myth makers are ultimately involved in conditioning us to accept and conform to the market and exchange relationships of the wages system they must first establish a common identity of interests between buyer and seller. The advertising moguls persist in aiming for the unattainable, for they only survive by portraying an idealised world in which everybody can obtain an extra large slice of the wealth which the workers alone produce —but somehow always mysteriously evades them.

But no matter what form the images may take, the reality of everyday life unequivocally states that capitalism only operates under the economic restrictions of artificial scarcity, and consequently an abundance for all is an illusion. Accordingly the advertising world are deceiving themselves and us, for their portrayal of working class life styles rarely correspond to the reality of poverty. Obviously such a false projection can only be maintained on condition that it contains some element of truth. And undoubtedly a few of the members of the working class do, from time to time, manage to gain entrance to the capitalist class — the reverse is also true for sometimes a few of their members are chucked out to join the rest of us. By its very nature capitalism can only accommodate a certain number of parasites, and it is just not possible for everyone to become blood-suckers, or the blood bank of exploited labour would soon run dry.

Marketing and advertising agencies have become more sophisticated in the use of persuasion techniques, employing psychologists, statisticians, market researchers and con-merchants. The psychologists concentrate on colour and perception, manipulating us with their images. The statisticians must ensure a particular product is aligned with the varied consumer demands of the market. The market researchers, on the other hand, are concerned with packaging and polishing by separating workers into convenient compartments where our likes and dislikes, plus our ability to pay for the necessities of life, are duly listed. The con-merchant's job is the hardest of the lot for they are the ones who think going to work on an egg, or eating a "Mars a day" will not only make you work harder but make you happier in the bargain as well. This sophistication and the grading of workers into different economic categories, with each distinct entity holding its own supposedly unique set of values, explains why Tesco doesn't advertise in The Sunday Times colour supplement and Country Life.

Depending on whether or not you receive the messages of class society via the Ideal Home Exhibition or the local street market so you will find the working class is being fed a different image of its class position. Put simply: the advertising world wish the working class confined to stereotype groupings where the differences in sex. roles and occupations all conform to whatever profit maximisation demands. Sales will fall if the commercials say to their stereotype house wives they are irresponsible, unhealthy and disorganised by not using Fairy Liquid. But this is exactly what such adverts suggest by directly implying that "every Fairy Liquid housewife" is responsible, healthy and organised.

To envisage capitalism simply as a system purely concerned with the buying and selling of commodities without taking into account the effects it has on our lifestyle and how we conduct our day to day living is dangerous and damaging to us mentally and physically, for by necessity the system itself needs the workers as a class to remain docile and passive and subsequently a subject class ever ready to internalise and create false impressions of themselves and how the profit system exploits their ignorance. Because the majority of workers are disinclined to enquire into the nature of their subjection they see no conflict of interest between the exploiters and exploited and consequently fail to detect they are being conditioned into believing that there is no alternative to capitalism. There is a way out of the mindless treadmill — even capitalism can't put a price tag on socialism — for socialists don't sell their ideas. We give them away free of charge at every propaganda meeting. Besides which socialists have found by long experience it is sufficient to advertise the realities of capitalism rather than indulge in crude propaganda methods of deception, manipulation and distortion. Indeed the conscious political action needed to obtain socialism is not for sale precisely because its emergence will depend on the majority realising that only a fundamental change in how society produces and distributes wealth will put an end to buying and selling, prices, profits, wages, markets and poverty.
Gravedigger


Workers’ Resistance (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

I would be grateful if you could clarify, for the benefit of myself and others, the Party's position on the function of Trade Unions within capitalism.

Although I would accept that workers have to organise collectively to protect themselves against the physical and mental de-humanisation effect of the profit system. I would argue that benefits gained within such organisations arc largely short-term. Supporting their actions, therefore (especially in their present state led by such apologists for capitalism as Norman Willis), treads the thin line between the encouragement of the futile reformism of, say, the Labour Party, especially since the two have strong political connections.

Following on from this, I would be interested to hear your views on other forms of workers' resistance outside that of Union membership, such as over-manning, theft, go-slows, deliberate inefficiency and industrial sabotage - surely these are just as important as collective unionisation because they too produce cuts in surplus value (albeit. short-term) used to make profit for their bosses.
Keep up the good work.
Julian Prior
Pirbright. Surrey

REPLY
The Socialist Party's position on trade unions is based on Clause 2 of our Declaration of Principles: "There is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess". We therefore support actions of the unions against the employers when they are for objects that are in the interests of the working class. Such, for example, as an action to raise wages or to resist a reduction, for shorter hours or to improve working conditions. Inter-union disputes, actions by unions against the employment of immigrant workers, or support given to the political parties which perpetuate capitalism are not in the interests of the working class We have always emphasised that though union organisation is valuable to the workers, its effectiveness is strictly limited and it cannot end the exploitation of the working class. Unions cannot prevent unemployment.

How valuable it is can be seen from the big increases of wages following the rapid growth and improved organisation of the unions in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, when unions were mostly small and weak, Karl Marx thought that a continued fall of workers' living standards was inevitable in face of the development of the division of labour and the introduction of labour-saving machinery. As it turned out, the average real wages of British workers rose between 1855 and 1890 by over fifty per cent. Frederick Engels in 1892, looking back over the previous forty years, commented on the improved conditions of factory workers and "the remarkable improvement" obtained by workers in the big trade unions.

Our correspondent's statement that "benefits gained within such organisations are largely short-term", is quite untrue. The improvements in the 19th century, mainly through the greater effectiveness of the unions, have never been lost; this in spite of some periods of falling real wages (as during the 1914 war, and between 1920 and 1925 when prices were falling but wages fell more severely). Long-term, the slow rise of average real wages has continued, and the big reduction of hours of work and extension of paid holidays have been permanent gains. There can be no doubt whatever that if union organisation did not exist wages would be lower than now, and working conditions worse.

The value, and the limitations, of trade union organisation are well illustrated from manufacturing industry as a whole. For the years 1948 to 1978 official figures were published of the number of workers employed each year, their total pay, and the amount of the employers' profits. Their average take-home pay, after deducting PAYE and after allowing for the rise of prices, rose by at least fifty per cent. And it was not a question of the workers' total pay having fallen in relation to their output. On the contrary, the profits of the companies, measured against wages, fell by nearly a half.

But the total number of workers employed in manufacture fell, from its peak of 8,500,000 in 1955. by more than a million. Since 1978 it has fallen by another two million, largely the result of successful foreign competition which put large numbers of British manufacturing firms out of business, or compelled them to reduce output and cut staff. Our correspondent's reference to "overmanning" presumably refers to such loss of jobs and union resistance to it. The unions can sometimes delay the loss of jobs but they can't prevent it.

"Go-slow" tactics are sometimes used by the unions. They are less effective than an all-out strike and if the employers choose to do so, they can end the go-slow by a lock-out. "Deliberate inefficiency" by an individual will result in his losing his job. Unions do not go in for "theft" and "industrial sabotage". If individuals do so they render themselves liable to prosecution. That is their affair, though such actions are hardly likely to be popular with their fellow workers. More importantly, what is the purpose of it? The employers' profits would certainly be reduced and. in extreme cases, the sabotage could bring work to a halt or even put the employer out of business. But can our correspondent tell us in what way the whole exercise could possibly be of any benefit to the working class?

As regards the TUC, its affiliated unions (and of course the larger number of. mostly, small unions not affiliated) take their own decisions about the claims they make on employers and the actions they take to support their claims. What limited power the TUC has (for example, to intervene in inter-union disputes and to require affiliated unions to inform the TUC about strike decisions) are only those the affiliated unions collectively choose to concede to the General Council.

Our basic criticism of the unions is the one made by Marx. That they limit their aims to what Marx called the "reactionary" policy of seeking a "fair day's pay for a fair day's work" Marx went on to say that the workers should adopt the revolutionary policy of seeking "the abolition of the wages- system". Only when the working class comes to adopt the Socialist Party's aim of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism, and taking the essential organised political action for that purpose, will the exploitation of the working class cease.
EDITORS


Do They Take Us For Fools? (1997)

Editorial from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gordon Brown got carried away at this year's Labour Party Conference. The Labour government’s aim, he orated, is a return to full employment. Before the election he had resisted all attempts to have such a commitment put into Labour's election manifesto, preferring some such vague and ultimately meaningless phrase as “the highest possible level of employment”.

In 1944 William Beveridge, the father of the Welfare State, defined full employment as 97 percent employment; the remaining 3 percent “would consist of a shifting body of short-term unemployed who could be maintained without hardship by unemployment insurance. There would be no long-term unemployment and there would always be more vacant jobs than idle men” (Full Employment in a Free Society).

As it happens, such levels were attained in the 1950s and 1960s, though you’ve got to be over 50 now to remember those days. The followers of Keynes believed that this was the result of their policy of state intervention to maintain demand. But this was an illusion: the adoption of Keynesian budgetary techniques just happened to coincide with a world market boom. When that boom came to an end in the early 1970s, and Keynesianism was put to the test, increased state spending was unable to keep the boom going.

Keynesianism died in Britain not at the hands of Thatcher but under Callaghan and his Chancellor Healey. As Callaghan was forced to admit at the 1976 Labour Conference: “We used to think that you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that insofar as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy.’’

This is now the conventional wisdom, accepted just as much by Labour as by the Tories. Only the Lib Dems occasionally advocate increased state spending, only to be slapped down by Labour for being financially irresponsible.

So how does Gordon Brown expect full employment to be achieved? Since he rejects increased state spending, he is left with relying on what Beveridge called “the unplanned market economy” automatically self-adjusting itself to bring this about. Adam Smith called it the “invisible hand" and it is a measure of the extent to which Labour has abandoned all its earlier illusions that it now expects the workings of capitalism in its private enterprise version to deliver full employment, if only sometime before the middle of the next century.

An Inevitable Accident (1986)

Book Review from the September 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Worst Accident in the World - Observer staff (Pan Books. £2.95)

Nobody expects a team of writers from the Observer to turn out a Marxian treatise and this book is written on the assumptions necessary to capitalist society, crucially that productive activity should be assessed by reference to its profitability. Given that, it is by a long way superior to most of the quickie books which are rushed out to catch the market in the immediate aftermath of a newsworthy event. For this is a well written, informative account of what happened at Chernobyl on that awful day last April, with some historical background and a journalist's account of the chemical processes and their effects. Its theme is that the world's nuclear dream is at an end and that the future lies with new, safer technologies.

When it became apparent to the rest of the world that something had gone seriously wrong at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl there was a gleeful stampede among the media here and in America to exaggerate what was in any event a horrifying incident. One report said that two thousand people had been killed at once; another predicted ten thousand deaths in the immediate future, another talked about 15.000 radioactive corpses being bulldozed into a mass grave. There had to be a backlash to this clumsy attempt to prove that Russian nuclear technology was shoddily dangerous and inevitably the question was asked: if Chernobyl, why not Sizewell, Dungeness, Dounreay? Was is safe to allow any nuclear power stations, anywhere, at any time?

This question forced the western media into the spurious line that only Russian nuclear plants were unsafe, that only the Kremlin would have been so cynically callous as to try to hide the truth about the explosion and so deny thousands of people the chance to take precautions against the lethal plume escaping from the stricken station.

The facts are a lot less favourable to the western powers. In October 1957 a fire took hold in the reactor at Windscale and raged out of control for 42 hours. The scientists and engineers were powerless and there was the beginning of a melt-down. Finally, in blind panic they doused the thing in a tidal wave of water, although they were not sure that this would not cause an even greater catastrophe. The sale of local milk was banned over a huge area and two million litres of it were poured away. All of this was obscured in as thick a shroud of official secrecy as the authorities could get away with. In 1976 two leaks of radioactivity were found at Windscale — one had been spewing out for four years and another huge one for seven years.

In the USA, in October 1966 there was an unexplained melt of the fuel in a reactor just outside Detroit. Nobody knew what to do to stop it and when it did stop nobody knew why this had happened. A relieved, but nonchalant engineer admitted that "We almost lost Detroit". In March 1979 there was a similar emergency in the plant at Three Mile Island, which came within an hour of a full melt-down Again, nobody knew how to control the problem and it was by "sheer luck" that a full melt-down was avoided. Between 1969 and 1979 there were 169 incidents in the USA, each one of which could have led to a melt-down.

This remarkable history spotlights the fact that nuclear energy is fraught with peril which will not disperse under the verbal massage of the industry's officials. We have had these assurances before, telling us that the designers have learned their lessons and that another "accident" has been designed out of credibility. In fact, Windscale continues to be a threat, thirty years after that first fire and people who live under its menace, even as far away as the Isle of Man, have become irritably accustomed to being cautious about what they eat. what sort of milk they drink and so on. Chernobyl happened nearly thirty years after a terrible incident at Kyshtym, in Siberia, which made it necessary for the Russian government to evacuate and abandon hundreds of square kilometres of land which now lie empty and sterile, the road through bearing warning notices to vehicles not to stop, to keep their windows closed and to drive as fast as possible.

The future is no more reassuring. The new-defunct Greater London Council (which the nuclear lobby would probably consider to be not unbiased) estimated that a disaster at far-off Sizewell would produce some 2.400 fatal cancers in London, would lead to the evacuation of 3½ million people from the capital and lay waste to 240 square miles of London. One expert has predicted. from existing evidence, that we must expect a Chernobyl every ten years, spewing out wastes which will remain malignant for hundreds of thousands of years.

This all sounds incredible, and incredibly stupid, except that by the logic of capitalist society it is all very believable, all very sensible. Nuclear powers have invested enormous amounts of capital and ability into producing their bombs and their reactors, from the first plant at Hanford in Washington State to the modern showplace at Chernobyl. After the war, when the specious justifications for Hiroshima and Nagasaki no longer applied, the Labour government in Britain (who had promised us peace, international harmony and socialism, although not necessarily in that order) took a secret decision to manufacture a British bomb Only six ministers knew about this; the cabinet were not told, neither was parliament and neither, of course, were the voters. The project was given the highest priority, by Attlee's personal command. It was a disgraceful, but typical, episode, motivated entirely by a desire to re-establish the British capitalist class as a leading power in world capitalism.

But the bomb was not universally loved, as the ruling class and the Labour government wanted it to be. Doubts were expressed about the morality of a weapon of such fearful and enduring destructiveness The prospect of producing electricity through nuclear reaction was held out as a beguiling counter to these objections. The first plants got onto the drawing board under a haze of maniacal optimism which spoke of humanity overawing the most basic forces of nature, to produce electricity so cheap that it would be impossible to meter it. In 1965 a Labour minister of power hailed the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor as "the greatest breakthrough of all time" (although he did not go so far as to compare it with sliced bread) which was a measure of the deception in which the whole business was steeped.

In reality, the plants were massively more expensive, and more difficult to build than had been expected and when they were in operation they were plagued with breakdowns. Dungeness, in Kent— an AGR station — was estimated to cost £89 million and to be completed in 1970. Its first electricity was fed into the grid in 1983. at a building cost of £600 million. And when it finally comes on stream, a nuclear power station is selling its wares in a highly competitive market. At present, the power market is typically unstable, under the influence of falling prices for oil and for coal. By the standards of the capitalist market (but not by those of the "consumers", thousands of whom cannot afford to heat their homes in winter) there is now something of an over-production of electricity; the French industry, which drove through a programme of nuclear power stations with ruthless efficiency. is desperately seeking an export market for its "surplus ".

The mania of optimism stifled much of the opposition to nuclear power and a sizeable export trade in stations has been built up over the years. Plants have been sold to such countries as Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and India (which is a world leader in nuclear pollution - one of the reactors there has exposed over 300 of its workers to levels above the international safety limits). Much of the world reaction to Chernobyl was concerned with the stability of the export trade before human interests. There was pressure from the British industry on the Italian not to close the Magnox plant at Latina, just south of Rome, for fear that this would encourage the campaign to close Magnox reactors in Britain. The French government deliberately tried to conceal the news of Chernobyl, as they have suppressed news about incidents in their own nuclear plants, to protect the industry A similar disregard for human safety caused the EEC to exclude East Germany from its ban on the import of foodstuffs from the countries affected by the Chernobyl fall-out; West Germany was concerned about the effect of such a ban on their trade with their supposedly ideological rival.

In the light of all this, it is hardly appropriate to describe Chernobyl as an accident, any more than it would be an accident if a car with no brakes and with defective steering came to grief on a journey down a steep, winding mountain road. Capitalism applies nuclear energy, as it does everything, with the motive of production for sale and profit. The drive for profit can reach the proportions of an all demanding. all-consuming, all-distorting hysteria, to the point at which the decision-makers begin to lose touch with even capitalist realities and become energised by their own ballyhoo. In this situation, human interests have a very low priority and when the inevitable disaster happens there is a ready supply of cynicism and deception as unguent for our fears.

Whatever criticisms we may have of this book, it is not composed as an unguent. Within its limited scope — its acceptance of the capitalist basis of profitability — it makes a strong case against nuclear power plants. Its conclusion — that the days of the nuclear industry are numbered — may be correct but if so it will not be because of any human factors but because yet another bubble of capitalist deception has burst.
Ivan

Obituary: Andrew Thomson (1997)

Obituary from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sadness that Glasgow branch report the death of Andrew Thomson.

Andrew joined the Party in 1944. He was a vehicle builder in the Springburn railway workshops. Around that time there were five or six Party members working there; indeed at one time they used to hold outdoor public meetings during their lunch break.

Andy was one of those members who are the backbone of nay branch. At many branch meetings when an outdoor meeting in Glasgow or Edinburgh was reported and the literature sales seemed high, some member would say by way of explanation, “Oh, aye. The pamphlet sales were good, but that was because Andy was selling them.” His straightforward, open approach to enquirers or even opponents of socialism was disarming and powerful. The socialist movement is built on the decent, reliable and honest virtues of workers like Andy Thomson.

The branch extends its deepest sympathy to his wife Emily, herself a member. Her loss must be heartbreaking. Glasgow branch have had many members with great abilities as speakers, debaters, literature sellers and organisers. It is doubtful if we have ever had a member that inspired such real affection as we all felt towards Andy. He was in many respects one of the best of us and the loss of his cheerful, comradely presence will be felt by all of us who had the privilege to know him as a comrade and a friend.
GLASGOW BRANCH

If I ruled the world . . . (1986)

A Short Story from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well, what if you did? Just supposing you alone ruled it? You’re a decent, sociable sort of person who woke up one day to discover you were the absolute governor of the Earth. Alright, it's daft. It's no dafter than some of  the ideas people produce in the grim attempt to defend this system, but it's a bit silly all the a same.

Only think about it. Think of the power. Think of what you could achieve. It would probably make your head swim.

Some people have these fantasies. It 's not always wild megalomania. Sometimes it's simply frustration. They look around at all the fragmented and petty pressure-groups that offer sincerity instead of strategy and they feel frustrated. Nukes. Whales. Blood sports. CND. Vivisection. Health. Housing. Ecology. Feminism. Endless just causes. Endlessly lost. Who wouldn't despair sometimes? It's no wonder people fantasise.

And they get to thinking: suppose I was in total charge What I could achieve! My head's swimming. 

Not that any of us are going to be Universal Despot of course. But some are so in love with the idea of having leaders that they do the next worst thing: they vote for one. So let 's assume you are Leader and see where it gets us.

First of all you have to consolidate. With the best will in the world it's no use being Supreme Sovereign if you haven't got supreme power. So the programme of reforms will have to be shelved for the moment.

What you need is support. You need to offer to your would-be supporters something you're not going to offer to anyone else. But what could that be? This isn't the nineteenth century. In 1986 there is the capacity to feed the world four times over. There's plenty of energy and still plenty of raw materials. There are plenty of houses standing empty, and bricks to build plenty more. The fact is, right now there isn't really anything you can offer which doesn't already exist in abundance. With the best will in the world, you have to create meaningful privilege somehow or you won't last the lunch-hour.

The socialist version of this fantasy stops here. You can be World Leader if you like and pin medals on yourself but you can't gather a single supporter because you have nothing they can't get just as easily somewhere else. You will be humoured by sensible socialists as you strut impotently in your Napoleon hat. You'll be the harmless village idiot.

Being a world ruler has far more standing however when there is a scarcity of things people need. Like food. Or houses. Now you've got something to offer your supporters - not the things themselves simply, but a virtual monopoly of the means to produce them. Your first act as benevolent (because we've giving you the benefit of the doubt) dictator has to be to create or maintain a small, privileged class. That means depriving the rest. With the best will in the world, that's the only basis for power.

It can be a very small class at that. All that matters is that they keep the rest down. So they have to have the important monopolies of life, the mines and the land and the factories. not just badges that say "BOSS" and light up in the dark. And they have to keep armies of course, in case the rest don't like this. And they have to force the rest to work producing things so that life goes on. But they have to steal all this produce otherwise the rest won't stay down. In the face of such problems of control, the reform measures have to be deferred a while longer . . .

It's quite easy to achieve all this when you happen to be in sole charge of scarce resources. It would seem like a logical impossibility to impose scarcity on a world of abundance, and yet you must if you believe leaders are necessary and conquering power is the answer. Just how do you or someone else stay on top as World Leader for even a week?

The capitalist version of this fantasy doesn't stop here. It goes on and on. You know what the answers are. Capitalism creates artificial scarcity. Money is the trick. Money is the basis of scarcity, of power and of enslavement. You must have the money system if you are going to keep power and force through your enlightened reforms on whales, foxes and decent houses. But in the process look where you've ended up.

Simply by choosing to impose good ideas by force you have become a vicious tyrant And there's more. You have effectively recreated the system which causes the very problems you wanted to solve. Oh yes. the system causes them. Whales die for profit, don't they? Nukes are made for wars which are caused by competition for profit, aren't they? Women and blacks are conditioned as cheap labour and the robbed and cheated are kept cleverly divided among themselves for the sake of the system. Thanks to you, the despot or the supporter.

That is where good intentions and poor thinking will lead any revolution which tries to impose or coerce or obligate. It is the lesson of the Russian revolution, of Iran, of Cuba, of Zimbabwe. It will be the lesson of Nicaragua even without the Contras and the Philippines even with free elections. It must be a lesson learnt right now by anyone who thinks minority rule is a solution. The Socialist Workers' Party thinks that. The Communist Party thinks that. Militant thinks that. They do not understand socialism any more than the Labour Party.

Socialism can only be voluntary. It is the co-operation of the majority in a climate of abundance. The abundance exists now Only the money system stands in the way. Co-operation exists everywhere and always has. Only we re conned and cajoled into thinking we're incapable of it. There is no need for bottles and barricades. No-one has to kill or maim to get socialism. If they try they'll just make life worse for us all. All that is needed is for people to agree that capitalism is unnecessary and undesirable. The power is in our hands. We are the workers who run society. Without us nothing moves, nothing functions, nothing gets made. If we refuse en masse to support a system of poverty, wars, states, prisons and money-scarcity, it cannot continue to operate. What else does being a worker mean?

The next time you are tempted to fantasise, think instead what we could achieve if we combined together without leaders. But don't be tempted to think that socialism is an idle day-dream. It can be a reality. It can be established immediately. It is the sole alternative to chaos, and the only real way to achieve equality and freedom. And that is a thought to make your head swim.
Paddy Shannon

CND - Out of touch with reality (1963)

From the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

When India's Prime Minister Mr. Nehru decided to prepare by all possible means for what he said might be a war against China lasting for years, he admitted that under pressure of events he and the Indian government had abandoned their long-held policy. He said that for years they had been “out of touch with reality,” and the Chinese invasion had shocked them all out of “the artificial atmosphere of our creation.” For years Nehru had been chiding other governments for their reliance on arms and the waging of war—now he was calling on the Indian workers to emulate the action of the British Government in 1940 of building up armaments after the evacuation of Dunkirk. He appealed to the American and British governments, hitherto the objects of his rebukes, to supply arms to India.

It was not only Nehru who suffered a shock to his beliefs, but also CND, for to them Nehru’s line had been a favourite example of the kind of policy governments ought to pursue. CND like Nehru has been out of touch with reality. To them armaments (including nuclear weapons) and wars, are simply the result of the governments having wrong policies: so what could be easier than for the British Government to give up its reliance on nuclear weapons and its association with governments having nuclear weapons, and set an example, which other governments would follow, of peaceful co-existence. Now CND has seen, not the Western governments following the example supposed to have been set by Nehru, but Nehru following the example of the governments which CND said were wrong. He is appealing for help to governments which have nuclear weapons. It is worth noting exactly how unrealistic CND was.

The following is taken from the CND leaflet Why We Are Marching, issued at Easter, 1962, for the Aldermaston march:
Millions of thinking people reject the government's Defence policy. Behind that looms the vast and immoral folly of the H-Bomb. That is why we are marching from Aldermaston where Britain’s H-Bombs are made, to London where our government makes decisions which spell life and death for us all.
We want Britain to give a lead: by renouncing nuclear tests, weapons, bases and policies. By aligning herself with the uncommitted nations in pressing for disarmament. By using the resources freed to fight world hunger, disease and poverty.
Now CND sees the chief uncommitted government, Nehru’s, preparing the country for war and turning resources away from civilian uses to the production ol armaments and the organising of armies. Steel plants are turning over to the production of armoured plates for tanks; fertiliser factories are changing over to the production of strategic goods; motor plants are turning out jeeps; warships are being built and the air force expanded. The Bombay correspondent of the Financial Times (11/12/62) reports:
India’s Third Five-Year Plan is being geared to meet the needs of the country's defence. A “war conplexion” has already been given to the Ministry of Steel and heavy industries. Producers in both public and private sectors have been asked to go ahead with the requirements of the Defence Ministry.
Thus does capitalist reality catch up with well-meant illusions. Capitalism is by nature expansionist and predatory, no matter that particular governments call their capitalism “socialism” (India and China both fall into this category). Privilege and profit for the ruling class is the aim, and the armed forces to hold and extend markets and control of sources of raw materials, are the means. Armed force is a capitalist necessity both to protect the propertied class against their own dispossessed and for use against rival capitalist interests.

While the dramatic somersault of India's government highlights the unreality of CND the reality has been there for them to see all along. The Indian government was ’’uncommitted" in the sense of choosing not to join up with the American or Russian power blocs, but that was all: in every other respect it behaved like all the other governments. About a third of the central government expenditure has been on the armed forces ever since India got rid of British rule. The amount has been growing more or less steadily year by year. In 1960-1 it reached about £225 million—now it will rise still more. And, such is the contradictory nature of capitalism, that thousands of desperately poor among the unemployed will get work they otherwise could not find.

The moral of this is clear. War is not in the interest of the working class anywhere, but the remedy is not the unreality of asking capitalism to behave differently but the Socialist policy of getting rid of capitalism which causes war.
Edgar Hardcastle

Osborne, Mao, Same Struggle (2016)

The Cooking the Books Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
It was a good idea to twit George Osborne about his new-found love for the dictatorship in China to make the point that, when it comes to finding markets and investment outlets, ideology doesn’t matter. What does instead is the material, economic interest of the capitalist class, and that Osborne, as one of their governmental representatives, served this interest on his recent visit to China, despite it being a dictatorship and, to boot, one that (falsely) claims to be socialist.
But, in his response to Osborne’s 25 November Autumn Statement, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, fluffed it by choosing to quote from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book and offering ‘Comrade Osborne’ a copy. What was he thinking of? He must have known that this would have been misinterpreted by a hostile media to paint him as a supporter of Mao, as one ‘Marxist’ quoting another. Of course neither Mao nor McDonnell are Marxists, and if anything McDonnell has been more of a fellow traveller of Trotskyism than Maoism.
The passage he quoted wasn’t very appropriate either. It was something Mao said in 1949, just after his party had won the civil war in China and assumed power there, about the need to learn how to run industries from those who had been running them under the previous regime (echoing what Lenin had said just after the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia), ending with the trite punchline ‘we must not pretend to know what we do not know.’
Actually, the Little Red Book does contain some more appropriate sayings that could have been applied to the Tory government’s Five Year Austerity Plan. One section is headed ‘Building Our County Through Diligence and Frugality’.
In 1955 Mao said:
‘Diligence and frugality should be practiced in running factories and shops and all state-owned, co-operative and other enterprises. The principle of diligence and frugality should be observed in everything. This principle of economy is one of the basic principles of socialist economics. China is a big country, but she is still very poor. It will take several decades to make China prosperous. Even then we will still have to observe the principle of diligence and frugality. ‘
And again in 1957:
‘To make China rich and strong needs several decades of intense effort, which will include, among other things, the effort to practice strict economy and combat waste, i.e., the policy of building up our country through diligence and frugality.’
In those days there would have been billboards and compulsory workplace meetings shouting ‘Build Our Country Through Diligence and Frugality’, i.e. work hard and live on as little as possible. Maybe ‘frugality’ wasn’t the best translation of whatever the Chinese word was. A more appropriate one might have been …. ‘austerity’.
Hard work and austerity was what the workers and peasants of China got under Mao as their consumption was held down to build up state capitalist China’s industrial and military might. Since Mao’s death in 1976 China has evolved towards a more conventional kind of capitalism, with private capitalist firms, billionaires, a stock exchange and all the rest, but still under the dictatorship of the so-called ‘Communist’ Party. Not that that’s a problem for Osborne when it comes to doing trade and investment deals. Nor would it be for McDonnell if ever he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Labour governments too have known all about how to look after the interests of British Capitalism plc.