Tuesday, February 2, 2016

David Bowie: Ground-breaking Artist (2016)

From the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

January saw the death from cancer, aged 69, of David Bowie. No popular music artist of the past fifty years has had as wide and profound an influence. There was a spontaneous outpouring of grief across the world amongst the millions of fans he had accumulated in six successive decades. The same comments were repeated on social media and in the press over and over again: that he had provided not just the soundtrack to their lives, but had inspired and stimulated them artistically and culturally. I became an avid listener of his as a child in the early 1970s and this was a key influence in my becoming a musician myself.

As a teenager growing up in the London suburbs, Bowie was both extremely imaginative and intensely hard working at honing his craft, and he remained so, releasing his latest album, Blackstar, on his 69th birthday just two days before he died. He is known for the recurring theme of space travel gone wrong, and the loneliness and alienation so powerfully symbolised by that. He once said of his childhood that he ‘felt often, ever since I was a teenager, so adrift and so not part of everyone else . . .  so many secrets about my family in the cupboard . . .  they made me feel on the outside of everything' (interview in 2002 TV documentary, David Bowie: Sound And Vision). It was entirely appropriate that he composed the music for the television adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha Of Suburbia in 1993. He understood more than most the psychology of the city and its outer reaches, and always reached out to fellow ‘outsiders’ of every kind.

His fierce determination in financial matters derived in part from having had all the receipts from his early years of success siphoned off surreptitiously by then manager Tony Defries, resulting in near bankruptcy despite having sold millions of albums and show tickets. As a former victim of such sharks he took the unique step of never again having a manager, instead himself employing a tiny number of people to deal with his personal, business and publicity needs. They were simply paid fees by him rather than his being paid out by them; he retained all of his own rights. He once sold a future rights issue to his songs, via ‘Bowie Bonds’, for a fixed period with the rights reverting to him after that, which proved an extremely astute financial move. A couple of years ago his home town of Brixton had honoured him by using his face on the ten pound note of their local currency, the Brixton Pound (a voucher system circulating between local traders).

'Crazed'
In a mid-1970s magazine interview he once advocated ‘fascism’ for England, and in 1976 was set up by the press and accused of making a ‘Nazi salute’ at Victoria station when greeted by fans on his return from living in Germany. The video of that moment shows him waving and this was freeze-framed to look like a salute. The following year, in 1977, he told Melody Maker that his flirtation with fascism had been a result of his being ‘out of my mind, totally, completely crazed’ at the time. In later years he campaigned vigorously for humanitarian causes and remained a committed Buddhist with a life-long opposition to the subjugation of Tibet by China. He also opposed the British occupation of Northern Ireland. Regarding racism, he was interviewed by MTV in 1983 and took the opportunity to take them to task repeatedly for limiting the number of black artists they featured.

'Subversive'
In a preposterous little piece in the Times (13 January) two days after Bowie died, Daniel Finkelstein tried to recast Bowie’s prolific promotion of artistic individuality as something for which we should thank capitalism – a view which Bowie would have found ridiculous. Finkelstein claimed that Bowie ‘was subversive because capitalism is subversive’, whereas in fact the opposite is the case. Capitalism homogenises and destroys individuality, as the human army of labour is moulded into conformity to match the needs of this system and increase profit.

He broke down barriers of every kind, and advanced the possibilities for choosing what to be. This evolution of personal freedoms is not something we can attribute to one influential person. It was clearly part of a much bigger and longer-term global trend. However, he had the brilliant social sensitivity and insight to tap into these moments and accelerate them.

Bowie rose to fame in the early 1970s at a time when ‘free love’ had been proclaimed as desirable between men and women, whilst gay relationships were still frowned on, even having been illegal in the UK until the late 1960s. He wore feminine clothes and make-up and challenged conventional sexual roles and behaviour. Large numbers of gay people even now still say that his announcement in 1972 that he was gay (and, later, that he was bisexual) helped them to feel less isolated and more confident in their identity.

Foresight
He had an intense intelligence and was extremely well-read with a broad encyclopaedic knowledge, which was yet another point distinguishing him from other pop or rock stars. In a 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman he once again showed great foresight in predicting, with what turned out to be uncanny accuracy, how the internet would rapidly come to dominate human communication (and what the effect would be on the music industry):
‘I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.’
He also said that he had chosen to work in music in his youth as in those days it still had ‘a kind of call to arms feeling to it, that this is the thing that will change things’ whereas pop music later became a mere career opportunity and that ‘the internet now carries the flag for the subversive and possibly rebelliousness, the chaotic and nihilistic . . .  forget about the Microsoft element, they do not have a monopoly.’ The audience becomes at least as important as those playing to them, with
‘the demystification of the relationship between performer and audience . . .  the point of having somebody who led the forces has disappeared, because the vocabulary of rock is too well known, it’s not devoid of meaning but it’s certainly only a conveyor of information not a conveyor of rebellion. The internet has taken on that.’
This was in 1999, when the evolution of the internet was very much less developed than it is now. Bowie was the first artist to have a dedicated website, or to make his material available online, or to offer his own web server facility (‘bowienet’). In that same interview, Paxman suggested that ‘some of the claims being made for the internet are hugely exaggerated’ but Bowie stuck to his guns and joked about the ‘far-fetched predictions’ made at the time of the arrival of the telephone, that it would ‘one day be found in every home’.

Survival instinct
He also quoted Duchamp on how the piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it, and add their own interpretation; that what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. ‘That grey space in the middle is what the twenty-first century will be about.’ Asked about why he felt the need to continue earning money, he replied ‘Being working class I feel that there’s never enough to leave my family. There’s a kind of survival instinct.’ He was not one to write overtly political songs, but his awareness of the corrupting power of money is evident, for example in his song Red Money:
‘Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?
Like a nervous disease
And it's been there all along.
Project cancelled,
Tumbling central,
Red money.’
Superpower imperialism also came into his sights tangentially in songs like This Is Not America. In Sons Of The Silent Age he captured the stupefying idiocy of popular culture:
‘Sons of the silent age
Pace their rooms like a cell’s dimensions
Rise for a year or two
Then make war
Search through their one inch thoughts
Then decide it couldn’t be done’
But above all he had a genius for conveying, through his work, the experience of alienation. It is significant that he spoke in interviews about his reasons for having ‘chosen’ music as his medium, for he was primarily a universal artist who was also happy to work in visual art (he was a good painter and sculptor), who acted in many films and plays, who produced, directed and designed.

He never allowed himself to become part of that cosy establishment generally joined by the luminaries of the arts, including pop stars of a certain age. He refused honours from the queen of both a knighthood and a CBE. His legacy will be one of challenging, imaginative, boundary-smashing creativity throughout artistic endeavour.
Clifford Slapper

African Hothouse (1966)

From the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1957 Ghana became the first of many Colonies to achieve independence within the Commonwealth. Much has been said and written about these new Nations in the intervening period and those who were loudest in their support and praise have usually seen their hopes drowned in a welter of dictatorship and suppression.

Certain conditions must be fulfilled before the idea of Socialism can arise. Of paramount importance is a highly developed industrial society in which the propertyless mass of wage-slaves is increasingly forced into the consciousness that its interests are in conflict with those of the owning class. Some workers, hearing us say this, consider the backward areas throughout the world. They see those millions of primitives whose way of life has never changed in a thousand years and feel that all this renders Socialism, if not impossible, something for the distant future.

Is it really so hopeless? We think not. Therefore, a progress report is required to see whether things are as unchanging and permanent as they seem to be. A comprehensive survey of all the new States is beyond the space at our disposal and a skimped attempt would simply defeat our purpose. So we shall look at one country only, and the question now arises—which one? Ghana, with its 400 years of western influence, would be the easiest choice, but we are looking for something less obvious This presents itself in —the Federation of Nigeria.

Here, the barriers to Socialism seem insurmountable. The most densely populated African National—55 million according to hotly disputed Government figures—it was, if anything, even more backward than Ghana in the days of Empire and generally had little contact with the West until recent years.

In the more developed South (East and West Regions combined) the inhabitants are distinct from those of the Moslem-dominated North. The Southern City has many modern features, with the motor vehicle a common sight. The North, in contrast, is from the world of Arabian Nights with its Minarets and feudal Emirs. A Nation where, instead of one people sharing the same life, speech and background, there are over 250 different tribal groups with no common language and with vastly assorted stages of development.

As late as 1920, the Governor of the day, Sir Hugh Clifford, ridiculed the idea ‘That this collection of self-contained and mutually independent Native States separated from one another by distance, history and tradition, political, social and religious barriers, were capable of being welded into a single homogeneous Nation”. This was the picture up to Independence.

Independence was the culmination of half a century of demanding freedom from the shackles of Colonialism. The driving force was the urbanised African who had come to work in Lagos, the big trading centre. By 1896 he was protesting that most of his taxes were going towards improving European residential areas. Down the years he found himself debarred from real advancement because of his native origin and he resented serving under white men whom he considered his inferior. Strict segregation, plus the fact that everything luxurious was for Europeans only, heightened the desire to be rid of the British. The absence of a reactionary settler class—it really was the white man’s grave—prepared the ground for the inevitable. After the war the rising tide of Nationalism engulfed Nigeria just as it did almost everywhere and degrees of Self-Government were demanded and won until, in October 1960, British Rule came to an end.

In 1947, outside of textiles and palm-oil, only one factory existed in the whole of Nigeria. Between then and 1960 there was a dramatic increase in unbanisation, with an estimated half-million wage and salary earners. But the vast majority were, and to a lesser degree still are, subsistence Farmers. Some of them worked part of the year in the Towns or Mines, but living off the land was the main way of life. Unlike today, there was nothing else for it

In his increasing contact with the modern world it becomes clear to the native that there is more to life than the Village can offer. He may hear that the earnings for a few hours work in Town bring a return the equal of many hours of back-breaking toil in the fields. This, or the desire for education, among other reasons, send him into the City to begin the process of losing his backward past—that of “de-tribalisation”.

It starts the moment he parts from the controls of the Tribe and the ties of the Village. He must adapt himself to the new conditions in order to survive, and the changes are great. He walks on different ground and keeps different hours. The tools he uses have changed and with them his idea of himself. The traditional life of the Village with its protections and comforts are no longer his; instead, he is in a jungle where those things do not exist. New associations must be sought and these usually present themselves at work and are seldom from his particular background. Thus, new interests are created and when problems arise they may not be treated as personal or Tribal in nature but as social issues which demand new thinking. More, these new associates have different Gods from his own—or no God at all—so his acceptance of conventional superstition is challenged. To sum up, there is enormous pressure for re-examination of his beliefs, standards, values and aspirations. At the same time, the contradiction of a wage-worker’s life and the spectacle of immense wealth displayed in Stores, etc., leads to the development of the idea of crime. No longer can the Village expatriate simply pick up anything he wishes to make use of. Those things are now privately owned and must be paid for. He is living in a money economy.

What protection has he? The same as anyone else; he joins a Trade Union. Here again the story is one of a mushrooming under the conditions of emergent Capitalism. Pre-war, only Clerks and Administrative workers in Nigeria were organised. There was little compulsion to work for wages and jobs were only taken to supplement agricultural income while the depression reduced demand for labour in both Government and private sectors.

In 1940 only five Unions existed, claiming 3,500 members between them. By 1956 they numbered almost 200 with 170,000 members. Progress, if swift, was erratic with many Unions vanishing as quickly as they came. There were reasons for this.
(1) Poor communications between Branches separated by great distances.
(2) The small scale of industry—some Unions had only 50 members!
(3) Seasonal nature of many jobs.
(4) Large labour surplus.
Today, although still split by factional squabbles, the Movement continues to grow. In July 1964, a major strike involving a million workers took place over wage-rates and lasted two weeks despite everything the Government could throw at it. Threats to dismiss all strikers were ignored and with the country at a virtual standstill the Government was forced to accede to many of the strikers’ demands.

This growth in trade union strength has occurred in the face of Tribal loyalties and animosities. Does this mean Tribalism is a spent force? Far from it. In fact it has staged something of a come-back in recent times. Before I960, when Nationalist aspirations were rampant, differences of Tribe and Region were submerged in the unity of aim—independence. Nowadays, the political leaders, jockeying for position and power, are having to invoke all the old antagonisms—although the dangers of this are obvious and recognised. Also, as the demand for the more skilled type of labour—administration, education, etc.—slackens off, then those who have not yet landed a good position must exert pressure wherever they can.

In the long run the past will lose out to the demands of the new social order. Those who have spent much of their lives with the Tribe will remain under its influence to some extent, but the generations who know only City life and who receive a uniform education will have little interest in the ancient ties.

In any case, Tribalism is not confined to primitive peoples. It is present, although in modified form, throughout modern society and can be seen among Scots, Irish, Jews, etc. These groups who consider themselves different because of Nationality or Religion will still unite with outsiders for political or economic reasons.

And capitalist education is in Nigeria forging ahead. The Ashby Commission, set up at the time of independence to map-out the necessary rate of expansion, recognised that lack of skilled manpower was the biggest obstacle to development, and put forward “massive, expensive, and unconventional” recommendations which included four new Universities by 1980. Today, that target has been beaten. Four million children are already receiving Primary schooling and the plan is for an additional half million each year.

Everywhere the story is one of rapid “Westernisation''. The Lagos Sunday Times (19/9/65) provides the following sample. “The sleek Mercedes Benz saloon glides out of the corner. At the same time, august lady at the Bus stop flips out a miniature looking glass from the dazzling' bag slung over one arm and after applying another layer of lipstick. smoothens down her skirl. With a screech of brakes the car stops and a not-too-young face smiles at the lady . .. Want a lift madam , . . and so begins yet another etc., etc. . . " The article goes on to deplore faithless women in WIGS who leave “whimpering infants” and ‘‘good husbands" to indulge in affairs. True, this is more a picture of upper-crust life but the trend is unmistakably away from the old values and standards.

Ultimately, the greatest factor in the development of Nigeria's working-class is that it is part of a world economic system, the effects of which it cannot escape. The catastrophic fall in prices on the world market of its chief export. Cocoa, has meant a large and increasing balance of payments deficit. The result has been to cut imports drastically of manufactured goods from those countries mainly responsible for the adverse trade balance, such as Japan. Thus, favourable conditions are created for the expansion of home-grown industry and one Company exulted in a full-page ad. in the Daily Times (21/9/65), “With the recent decision of the Federal Government to restrict the 'importation of imitation jewellery from Hong-Kong and Japan, our factory has taken positive action to increase its capital investment by ordering more machinery, resulting in increased production capacity to cope with this restriction”.

The political upheavals which have been part of the Nigerian scene lately have brought forth suggestions that the Federation may be in the process of breaking-up into several smaller units. Even if this should happen the developments outlined above will continue to a greater or lesser degree, but the conclusion must be the same. That the part of Africa now known as Nigeria is advancing towards the image held out to it by the older, established Nations—that of an industrialised, class-divided. Capitalist society.
Vic Vanni





THE GREAT SHAM FIGHT AT THE POLLS (1924)

Editorial from the November 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Election came too suddenly for us to be able to deal with it before the event—which saved us at least from the temptation to offer you the name and score of the winning team. Our attitude will be well known to our readers. We have but one policy, the same as at between elections. We want Socialism, and we say now, as always, that whatever the workers may get by supporting either of the three great parties, they will not get Socialism.

Workers who are so hypnotised by the promise of reforms, those patches on a rotten social structure, that they neglect to observe the rottenness of the capitalist system itself, will naturally support that party whose programme promises them most, providing that they retain enough infantile trustfulness to believe anything from the mouth of a politician. Thus the bulk of the working class voted Conservative or Liberal, and the remainder of those who voted at all gave their votes to the Labour Party. Suicidal though this is, and regrettable from the Socialist standpoint, there is no doubt that the workers who voted thus believed they were acting intelligently. Conservative policy, dictated though it is primarily in the interests of the Conservative wing of the capitalist class, may incidentally bring temporary and apparent benefit to the workers employed in certain industries. Similarly, the policy of what was the Liberal Party, and the policy of the inheritors of the Liberal tradition, the Labour Party, might bring some seeming advantage to some other sections of the workers. In a moment of panic or under the pressure of discontent any one of these parties, all of them now claiming to be “Reform" parties, might introduce measures bringing fleeting relief to the great mass of the working class, and the latter, accustomed to taking short views, vote for the reforms and forget to ask themselves why it is that this constant reform legislation is necessary, and why, in spite of it, the condition of their class grows steadily worse. We do not defend capitalism like the Liberals and Conservatives, but neither do we defend it apologetically like the. Labour Party. Mr. Wheatley, in introducing his Housing Bill, said that it was an attempt to patch up the capitalist system, in the interests of humanity. We do not believe that humanity can be served by patching up the capitalist system, but only by destroying it. If we thought otherwise we would presumably support one or other of the parties which has confidence in its ability to patch up capitalism; but we should cease to be Socialists if we shared Mr. Wheatley’s belief. He ignores the fact that every reform of this kind increases the responsibility and power of the capitalist State, and increases the stability of the capitalist system.

When the workers want Socialism they will not be deceived into believing that support of t;he non-socialist programmes of the Liberal, Conservative, and Labour Parties will give them it.

The Election, in spite of its heat, was a sham fight, not in the sense that any of the party machines was worked at less than full pressure but in the sense that there was no issue in dispute worth fighting about. The Conservatives said it was a fight against Socialism, but they left Socialism alone and concentrated their energies on mud-slinging and appeals to the most brutal and ignorant prejudices. The Liberals had no time to spare from their task of preventing a stampede among their own sheep. They raised the dear-bread cry to hedge the right wing off from the Conservatives, and the Bolshevik bogey to hold in the Liberal left wing. The result was heavy losses in both directions. The Labour Party was only too willing to take up every trivial-challenge its opponents chose to throw down, and avoid not only the question of Socialism, but also what it says are its own principles. Only one still small voice was heard to mention the Capital Levy, Nationalisation had to take a subordinate place to the Russian Treaty, nothing was mentioned this time about independence for Ireland or the native races in the Empire, and it was rare indeed to see an election address or hear a speech containing any definite attack on the fundamentals of the capitalist system. Socialism itself, even if the word may have crept in now and again to satisfy the left-wingers, was not treated as practical politics.

How often are we told by “Socialists" who join the Labour Party of the magnificent opportunities they will have of carrying on Socialist propaganda. Usually their "Socialist propaganda” consists in helping some place-hunter into the House of Commons by defending a sickening mixture of the platitudes of degenerate Christianity and the exploded nostrums of the trashy Liberal economists of the late nineteenth century, which is all the typical Labour election address contains.

As for the result, the Labour Party, while they may reasonably regret the shocking blunder Macdonald made in going to the country on an issue so difficult to explain in the bustle of an election as the Russian Treaty, they nevertheless feel pleased with the number of votes cast for their candidates. To have increased their poll by over a million was, in the circumstances, a so-called "victory" for them.

Mr. H. N. Brailsford, in the "New Leader” (October 31st), has something to say about MacDonald’s blunder and his leadership of the Labour Party which suggests that there may be considerable discontent behind the scenes :—
“We have undoubtedly paid heavily for the unlucky handling of the Campbell affair and the Zinovieff letter. We contrived to give the impression of a lack of candour. Our explanations came tardily, and when they came, they failed to remove the suspicion that something discreditable was being concealed. As we look back on these crowded weeks, the doubt increases whether we did wisely to refuse an inquiry into the Campbell affair. There was no truth whatever in the suspicion which our opponents fostered, that 'extremists' were dominating the Government. The plain fact is that it would be difficult to name a single Member in our Party who would have approved a prosecution in the Campbell case. The Party was equally solid in its support of the Russian Treaty, and all of us would have regarded the failure to complete it as a disaster. When the heat and weariness of this struggle have passed we shall have to review at leisure the record of these nine months, but our tests will not be those which our opponents use. The shortcomings which have injured us were, to our thinking, rather temperamental than intellectual. In ability and in devoted work our Front Bench did not fall short. Its leadership, however, too often lacked frankness in the House. It was too ready to treat proper questions as insults. It thought too often in terms of conspiracies and plots, and gave undue weight to electioneering tactics. It somehow failed, when the contest came, under the stress of excitement and overwork, to raise the issue to the level of reasoned debate."
The huge Conservative majority may well prove an embarrassing asset unless chance is very kind to them. They have first to fight out among their own sectional interests what their fiscal policy is to be, and; as recent experience should have taught them, unless unemployment decreases considerably a majority in the House is not for long a guarantee of support in the constituencies. For reasons beyond the control of the Government, unemployment may of course take a downward trend, but the Conservatives have no positive remedy, any more than has the Labour Party.

The Communists made themselves ridiculous, as usual. Whether the Zinovieff letter is forged or not, it accurately reproduces the ideas of these grown-up children who play at soldiers and gunpowder plots; Communist support of the Labour Party cost it many thousands of votes. This is how the Communists carry out their anti-Socialist policy of helping Labour into power. Is it possible to find anywhere else men so pitifully ignorant of the power of the State and of the ingenuity of the ruling class who control it; or so childishly innocent of the elements of political action? Such people would, if they had any influence on the workers, be a positive danger to any who followed them in their suicidal appeal to violence. Communists at Deptford were delirious with joy because Bowerman, supporter of a Bill to make Communist propaganda illegal, was returned again. If they received orders from Moscow to do so, they would hang themselves.

Conservative victories, Liberal victories, and Labour “ triumphs ” we have had before. The capitalist system continues to crush the working class, and will do so until the workers realise the fraud of these parties and their programmes. Only when the workers become Socialists will the great sham fights at the polls give place to a real political struggle between capital and the working class.






Beyond the Profit System (1997)

From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The only way to stop capitalism plunging the world even deeper into the mire is for the working class to look beyond the confines of the profit system .

All systems of private property society pass through periods of ascendancy or progression and then through a period of decadence when they have outlived their usefulness. Socialists contend that having created the material conditions for its replacement by socialism—a society of free access to abundant and available wealth—capitalism is now a politically decadent social system. Given the level of productive potential in society, it is now obsolete, being the real cause of poverty amid opulence, economic crises of overproduction for the market but not for need, and never-ending wars over economic and political power.

Indeed, its development is now such that having extended its tentacles into every aspect of human existence, the market economy is eating away at the very fabric of collective life, extolling the virtues of competition, aggression and an ‘every man for himself’ culture the like of which has never been experienced before. This has resulted in massive waves of crime, drug abuse, corruption, violence and spreading ideological poisons like religious fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing. Even in the so-called “democratic” and “advanced” heartlands of world capitalism, the market economy is exhibiting real signs of what can be termed social decadence as well as political obsolescence. As capitalist society appears to rot on its feet under the pressure of its own competitive economic momentum, the very gains of centuries of civilisation are put into question. The onset of this period of social decadence has been the product of the working class’s inability to put an end to capitalism—it has certainly not been inevitable, any more so than periods of social decadence in earlier systems of society were.

Economic decadence?
As well as the type of social decadence that now characterises world capitalism, other private property systems have gone through a period of pure economic decadence too. This occurs when the pace of growth of the productive forces slackens and then finally comes to a halt; in other words, when the limits to growth of an economic arrangement in society have been reached and a social system can develop the forces of production no more.

The notion of economic decadence or limits to growth has led many theorists astray—including some allegedly in the Marxist tradition. No system of society ever collapses like a pack of cards, and the predictions of those like the old Communist Party and ILP who thought it would were dashed time after time. Likewise today, Trotskyist and Left Communist groups who have long given up any hope of a majority working class revolution dream up fantasies of capitalism collapsing, with the vanguard of the working class rising like a phoenix out of the flames to build a new society on the ashes of the old.

Notwithstanding such infantile fantasies, it is certainly true to say that all societies have had economic limits beyond which they have been unable to progress and that this situation has generally been reached when the way in which society is organised has become a pure economic fetter on the forces of production. This factor undoubtedly influenced the decline and eventual supersession of previous societies like Ancient Rome and feudalism. These systems did not collapse but stagnated until the forces capable of sweeping them away were able to do so. In the example of feudalism, that system was not superseded by capitalism until the new productive methods and organisation of the capitalist class were consolidated, heralding an era of unprecedented economic growth based on industrialisation and the wage labour/capital relationship that went with it, a relationship which succeeded in sweeping away the stagnant and inefficient old feudal lord/peasantry ties.

Capitalism has been the most dynamic social system in the history of humankind and if limits to capitalist growth are ever reached it will be because the working class has been unable to replace the global market economy with world-wide common ownership and production for use. Capitalism will not collapse, it will simply reach a point whereby eventually it cannot expand the productive forces any further. Given the internal dynamic of capitalism there can only be one cause of this should it ever be reached—a halt to growth will occur only if there is no longer a sufficient mass of the system’s lifeblood, profit. In turn this situation is only likely to come about as a product of technological progress and all it brings with it in terms of developing the productive potential of society.

Capitalism has developed production over the last two centuries and more through the extraction and expansion of profit. The sole source of profit in capitalism is, of course, human labour but no matter how much the intensity of exploitation is increased so that more unpaid labour is given, there has to reach a point where, because of continuing automation and replacement of labour in the production process, this can no longer be sufficient to ensure a growth in total value production, of socially necessary labour inputs.The volume of unpaid labour turned into surplus value would no longer be able to rise sporadically as at present, but would halt and even start falling if the process was carried far enough. As a result, the mass of profit available for reinvestment in production would halt and eventually enter into a downward long-term spiral rather than an upward one. Such a development would have serious consequences for all those components of the market which are particularly dependent on capitalist economic growth—state finance and welfare provision, rises in wages, maintenance of social cohesion and environmental conditions to name but the most obvious. It would be a much more serious and damaging set of circumstances than the current difficulties associated with the current squeeze on the rate and mass of profit after tax—similar in consequence but more devastating in impact.

Pure economic decadence and its attendant limits to capitalist growth may be a situation that is never reached. If capitalism goes on long enough, though, it is a definite possibility, even a likelihood. Just as the onset of political decadence was followed eventually by the development of social decadence, so— eventually—economic decadence could follow unless something is done.

Time for action
Anyone with money enough to travel will know that there are still pockets of calm here and there on this planet, but what is becoming increasingly difficult to deny is that the world is a mess and is becoming a bigger and more horrible mess as the days, months and years go by. Many shut their eyes to it, but quite how long they will be able to carry on doing so is only a matter for speculation. Large tracts of Planet Earth are a stinking hole and the stench is wafting in all our directions.

Among the bourgeois commentators still broadly supporting capitalism, more and more demonstrate a distaste for its effects. Typical, in BBC Radio 4's 1996 Analysis Lecture was Professor Paul Kennedy. In his talk to various diplomats, politicians and business leaders he commented on the dangers global capitalism is already bringing with it. He asked his audience whether there was a solution to the disturbing trends encouraged by the spread of the world market and its prevailing competitive ethos, putting his own views in the following words:
“Perhaps in fact there is no answer and we simply have to brace ourselves for what [the economist] Schumpeter termed the "creative gales' of capitalism. Or perhaps Marx, lying in his grave and at present almost universally scorned, has a slow smile creeping across his face as he sees the convulsions ahead. That would be the final, and greatest, irony of this twentieth century of ours.”
Karl Marx, whose works were variously distorted by so many of those who claimed to be his supporters and ridiculed by his opponents, may indeed have the last laugh. Though only human and therefore fallible, Marx’s analysis of society has in many respects been proven remarkably accurate save for one thing—admittedly the most important—his prediction of socialism.

As capitalism heads deeper into its senility, manifesting new signs of its obsolescence by the day, it is up to the world-wide working class of wage and salary earners to fulfil Marx’s last hope, though not for his sake—for our own. Sooner or later; socialism, a system of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use will have to figure on the agenda of the working class if humankind’s collective existence and very survival is not to be put at stake. It is to facilitate that process that the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties in the World Socialist Movement exist and it is why this series of articles has been written. Our message to the working class is that capitalism’s time has gone. The choice before us is now “socialism or barbarism”, a progressive move to the next higher stage of social evolution, or a regression from which we may never recover. The choice is yours—but don’t spend a lifetime thinking about it.
Dave Perrin

Early Election Campaigns (1974)

From the June 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

After seventy years of Party activity it is worthwhile drawing attention to the early moves toward contesting parliamentary elections. In November 1906, two years after the formation of the Party, the Battersea Branch issued the first Election Manifesto, in connection with the local Borough Council elections. Twelve members stood as candidates for the various wards.

The Socialist Standard for December 1906 commented: — “All the candidates fought on the Election Manifesto published in our October issue, a few were distributed in each ward. They had no programme of ear tickling, side tracking, vote-catching ‘palliatives’ and did no canvassing. The candidates were practically unknown and had not climbed into popularity on the backs of the working class, by posing as ‘leaders’ of unemployed deputations, ‘right to live’ councils, and similar confusionist conglomerations”.

1906 was a general election year. The Executive Committee issued a leaflet Why Vote? The opening paragraph is all space permits quoting.
Fellow members of the working class! at the present moment you, or those of you possessed of votes, are being urgently reminded of a fact you may be pardoned for having forgotten — you are of consequence; then you, who but yesterday were ‘hands’, dependent, hirelings, articles of merchandise are today dictators, history-makers, you are the power, the power in the state. You hold the destiny of the Empire in the hollow of your hand. Yesterday, those of you who were unemployed were whining wastrels, scum, unemployable, treated as children on the one hand and dogs on the other. Today if you have votes—you are the bone and sinew of England’s greatness. ‘You count’.
It is a fact you may have forgotten. It is some time since you were so generally and emphatically reminded of it. It may be some time before you are so reminded of it again.
The leaflet dealt with the political parties and their programmes, and gave the Socialist alternative.

At the end of 1906, the Battersea Branch proposed to contest the London County Council (now the Greater London Council) elections. Although Comrades J. Fitzgerald and M. Newman were chosen as candidates, there is no record of them having gone to the polls. The September 1908 Socialist Standard carried a fine article on a by-election at Haggerston, a fine example of political writing of the period. It had humour and sarcasm and is a joy to read, even today, long after the event it is dealing with has been forgotten.

The same year Burnley Branch contested two wards in their district. The December Socialist Standard comment was: “We do not claim to have won either a numerical or a moral victory, although our poll was minute we claim to have done some good, and are not dissatisfied with the results.” About the same period, Tooting Branch put up two candidates for the Tooting ward.

1910 was a good year for Party activity. January saw the distribution of 50,000 General Election manifestos. Like all leaflets of this type it dealt with the political parties of the period and gave the Socialist answer to their claims. Tottenham Branch was active in the field of municipal elections that year. A by-election at Walthamstow was the occasion for the local Branch to issue a leaflet (and for the Liberal candidate to threaten to horse-whip a Party speaker). Watford Branch issued leaflets for the municipal elections of 1913. The war of 1914-18 prevented any electoral activity. For the general election of 1918, the front page of the Socialist Standard stated the Party position.

An important decision was made at a meeting of Party members on the 25th of February 1928 in the Friars Hall: “That this meeting of Party members declares itself in favour of running Socialist candidates at Parliamentary elections at the first opportunity and therefore endorses the action of the E.C. in inaugurating a fund for that purpose.” This meeting is probably one of the most important the Party has held, as from this can be traced the later electoral activity.
At the General Election of 1929, a prospective candidate was appointed for North Battersea. With only £21 12s. in the parliamentary fund the position was hopeless, but Battersea Branch made use of the occasion and inaugurated the type of meeting which has become known as the “challenge” meeting.

In the years 1937-1939 Party members were active in East Ham, preparing for the next general election. A prospective candidate was appointed. Comrades formed teams for door-to-door canvassing, selling the Socialist Standard, and explaining the Party case. Posters were designed and displayed, meetings held, committee rooms obtained, and all preparations were made. This activity was cancelled by the outbreak of war in 1939.

Metropolitan Theatre Meeting, 1945
The 1945 General Election provided the opportunity members had been working towards. It was decided to contest Paddington North, with our late Comrade Clifford Groves as candidate. Committee rooms consisted of an old shop which had obviously been vacant for a long time. Members converted it into a centre for distributing literature, arranging meetings and all the work involved in preparing thousands of the candidate’s address for despatch. For some it meant late nights after work; still it was an enjoyable and exciting event.

Members who were active looked forward to two events. First the actual nomination of Comrade Groves, the first Socialist candidate ever to be nominated, an event that at some time will be recognized as an important historical event. Then came the meeting, a challenge meeting held in the old Metropolitan Theatre (now demolished). Some members were doubtful about the venture as being too ambitious. In the event, although the opponents failed to appear, the team of Party speakers put the Socialist message to a packed hall of two thousand.

Many lessons were learnt from the 1945 venture which have proved useful. That which is probably the most useful is to remember that, although the task of spreading Socialist understanding is sometimes difficult, wherever the opportunity arises the Party must take it and never be timid in its efforts.
R. Ambridge

The Sedition Act (1935)

From the January 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Incitement to Disaffection Act has been the subject of attacks from many quarters, particularly from organisations with working-class labels, where it has aroused something like hysteria.

The Act will give the Government wide powers in dealing with those “who are attempting to seduce members of the armed forces from their allegiance to the Crown.” Pacifists, Churchmen, Liberals, Labourites, I.L.P.ers, Communists, and even some Conservatives, have been boon companions for the purpose of denouncing this Bill as an attack on “ Liberty, Democracy, Political Freedom,” etc.

The Act, however, is not of fundamental importance. The capitalists, undisturbed in their control of the State machine, have, in fact, always been able to restrict working-class activities when they found it necessary, and will continue to do so until the workers cease voting their masters into power.

It is, therefore, nothing short of impertinence for Liberals, Churchmen and others who have aided Governments in the past to suppress the workers at times of strikes, lock-outs, etc., to pose as protectors of “ Our Rights.”

Similarly with the Labour Party’s protests in the House of Commons.

Mr. Lansbury, for instance, who asked for an assurance that troops would not be used against the workers during industrial disputes (he called it “An open case of favouring the employers!”), must have a conveniently short memory. Else why should he expect a Conservative Government to do what the Labour Government of 1924 bluntly refused to do, when they turned down an amendment by Mr. Lansbury, which would have given Army recruits the option of refusing to take duty in connection with a trade dispute. (Parliamentary Reports, April 2nd, 1934.)

Was not that same Labour Government prepared to use the Emergency Powers Act against the Transport Workers, who were then on strike? (Daily Herald, April 1st, 1924.)

Their objections seem as little sincere as those of the religious fraternity, who denounced the Sedition Bill as being antagonistic to the teachings of Christianity. This Church and its mouthpieces are truly fit apostles of Freedom! (Incidentally, it may be noted that Sir T. Inskip, the Attorney-General, who was in charge of the Bill for the Government, is a devout Churchman.) Among the opponents of the Bill were organisations like the Communist Party and the I.L.P., which toy with the suicidal idea of armed insurrection. It does not appear to have occurred to them that their activities have provided the Government with a good excuse for pushing this Bill through.

It does not, however, materially alter the conditions of the task of converting the workers to Socialism. When a majority of the workers are Socialists and are politically organised, they will gain control of the State-machine, which carries with it control of the armed forces.

There is no need, therefore, to engage in the costly and almost fruitless task of converting soldiers to Socialism first.

In any event it is odd that reformist professional politicians, who do not preach Socialism to the civil population should think it worth their while to peddle their Reformist stock-in-trade amongst the armed forces. Moreover, while the leaders may be aware of the risks they are running, this is not always true of their working-class victims in the Army, Navy, or Air Force, on whom the law is much more severe.

The S.P.G.B. condemns such activities as dangerous and futile from the working-class standpoint.

Dangerous, because it gives reactionaries an excuse and a weapon for political suppression, futile because Socialism cannot be established through a civil war fought by non-Socialists about reformist issues.

To achieve Socialism it is necessary to have a majority of the working class who understand and want a Socialist system of production and distribution, the common ownership of the means of life. Given such a majority organised in the Socialist Party, any questions of the views and actions of the armed forces will fall into their proper perspective. The Socialist Movement has too many real problems to waste time on imaginary ones.
Sid Rubin


Feminist Fantasy (1978)

Film Review from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Take It Like a Man, Ma'am (seen at the ICA), was produced by a Danish feminist film collective. It starkly reveals some of the contradictions in the feminist viewpoint. It stars Tove Maes, who plays Ellen—a middle-aged, relatively rich woman whose children have left home and who, left to her own devices, begins to experience the ‘anomie’ of the lonely, idle housewife. Her main activity is anticipating her husband’s homecoming. The focal point of her life is somewhere on the periphery of his; her main function in life is to look after him.

After a party where she is ignored and belittled by her husband’s friends, she visits a doctor. He blames the menopause, and suggests to her husband that he buy her a puppy. (‘It often works’.) Her own solution is to join the labour market, and, as a result, becomes a “new woman.”

Ironies
The irony that actualising our ability to sell our labour power should be seen as a solution to any problem is the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the film, this irony is overlaid with another: a glossing over of the difference between sex and class. It is implied, in a mildly amusing sex role reversal fantasy of Ellen’s that the ruling class is all and only male. The feminist view that men as such oppress women as such is combined with the view that it is the ruling class, because of its position under capitalism, which exploits the working class. In Ellen’s fantasy, the men not only look after the children, while the women go out to work, but the men are secretaries and take orders from women bosses. The male secretaries ride bicycles and carry heavy bags, while the women drive in Rolls Royces. Now maybe it is true that most bosses are male and most secretaries female, but it is certainly not the case, as this sequence implies, that all females are members of the working class. The crowning point comes when Ellen—now herself— visits a market and strolls casually around in her finery. The hard-working stallholders are female. She remarks to one of them: ‘We are all sisters, now.’

Feminism
The film comes across as uncertainly reflecting the feminist viewpoint on society. But it also appears to recognise—and here is the origin of its unease—that there is a class division in society as well. Unfortunately the latter is not explicitly seen as a major cause of society’s problems—those of women as well as men. So the film presents the class division in society as coinciding with the division between the sexes. It is implied that the ruling class is exclusively male, while the working class is exclusively female.

This, of course is not just false; it is also highly misleading. Some women are capitalist—the Queen, and most men are members of the working class. To suggest that things are otherwise—that it is men who are the oppressors is to lead people up the garden path. Women will be concentrating their energies upon kicking their husbands when they should be focussing upon the real causes of oppression under capitalism: the class system.

An to suggest—as the film does when it recognises the existence of the class system—that the solution to the problems of women housewives lies in their becoming women factory workers is like suggesting that the way to get rid of wars is to join those who are in the front line. Though the latter might lead people to believe that wars ought to be abolished, it won’t get rid of them. Anyway the premises are false. Women housewives are not outside the class system and only joining it when they begin working in a factory; they are part and parcel of it.

If they spend their lives imagining they are outside it, they are like prisoners who are under the illusion that they are free, and who like the idea of going to prison to see what it is like, in order to convince themselves that it is a good idea to abolish the prison system. Instead of adopting any of these illusory, roundabout courses, women housewives ought simply to recognise that they are part of the class system, and begin doing something to get rid of it.
Alison Waters

Tolstoy On Work (1930)

From the May 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

I was always astonished at the accepted opinion (current especially in Europe) that work is a kind of virtue. I always felt that it was only excusable in an irrational animal, such as the ant in the fable, to elevate work to the rank of a virtue and to make a boast of it. M. Zola assures us that work makes men kind; the contrary has always been true in my experience. Without considering selfish work, which is always bad, the object of which is the well-being or aggrandisement of the worker, even “work for its own sake,” the pride of the worker, renders both ants and men cruel. Which of us does not know these men, untouched by considerations of truth and kindliness, who are always so busy that they not only never have time to do good, but cannot even ask themselves whether their work is not harmful? You say to these people: "Your work is useless, perhaps even pernicious, for the following reasons; pause and consider them for a moment.”

They will not listen to you, but scornfully reply: "You men have leisure to reason about such matters, but what time have I for discussions? I have worked all my life and work does not wait; I have to edit a daily paper with a circulation of half-a-million ; I have the army to organise, the Eiffel Tower to build, Chicago Exhibition to arrange, to cut through the Isthmus of Panama, to make investigations on the subject of heredity, telepathy, or to find out the number of times such and such a word occurs in the works of such and such a classic author.”

The most cruel of men, the Nero’s and the Peter the Great’s, have been constantly active, never pausing or giving themselves a moment free from occupation or distraction. Even if work is not a vice it can from no point of view be looked upon as a merit. Work can no more be considered a virtue than can nutrition; work is a necessity of which one cannot be deprived without suffering, and to elevate it to the rank of a merit is as monstrous as it would be to do the like for nutrition. The only explanation of this strange value attributed to work in our society is that our ancestors regarded laziness as an attribute of nobility, almost of merit, and that people in our time are still influenced by the reaction from that prejudice.

In my opinion, not only is work not a virtue, but in our defectively organised society it is more often a means of moral anaesthesia, just as are tobacco, wine and other means of drowning thought and hiding from ourselves the disorder and emptiness of our lives.
Leo Tolstoy

Obituary: Horace Jarvis (1975)

Obituary from the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Horace Jarvis died in hospital at Salzburg on Sunday 19th October after a heart attack a week earlier, brought on (as he described in a letter written on the day he died) by having done a twenty-five-mile walk and having had to rush to catch the last bus back to his hotel. He was 69.

Our comrade joined the SPGB in 1942, having many years earlier been expelled from the Communist Party. His article on why he joined the SPGB was published in the Socialist Standard for July 1975, and a recent publication of his, Christianity and Socialism, was noticed in the issue for April 1975.

Horace Jarvis was a man of great energy and varied interests, and he never tired of discussing the Party case and pushing Party literature wherever he went: with fellow chess enthusiasts, with patients and pupils at his clinic and school for osteopathy and physiotherapy; and on his frequent visits to a number of countries attending conferences in which he had a professional interest or on holiday. In the letter he wrote from hospital he told of long political discussions with contacts and strangers in Austria; also of contrasts he noted between hospital treatment in Salzburg and under the NHS in this country.

The Party has lost a tireless worker for Socialism We express our sympathy to his widow and two sons.

More knowledge but less understanding (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently I attended a lecture at the Darwin Theatre University College London - "Two Feet Rather Than Four: The Distinctive Human Adaptation"; speaker Lesley A. Aiello, Lecturer in Anthropology. The précis of the title was: "Bipedal locomotion and the accompanying specialisation of the human hand for tool use and manipulation are distinctive human characteristics. The evolution of these features, as revealed in the fossil record, is traced over the past 4 million years of human prehistory".

This suggested that the lecturer regarded bipedal locomotion as the most important feature of all human biological characteristics. During the course of the lecture it became obvious that the lecturer was very knowledgeable about the limited field with which she was dealing but the lecture was given in so hurried a way that I formed the impression that she was performing an obligation rather than engaging in a genuine desire to impart knowledge. It confirmed what I already thought to be the case - that very few anthropologists understand the overall significance of their field.

I have no doubt that most students of anthropology and related disciplines are aware of the controversy over the years in relation to the evolutionary origins of homo sapiens. For example, did the enlargement and complexity of the brain in hominid evolution take place before or after upright stance and bipedal locomotion had been achieved? Was upright stance a necessity for the evolution of vocal tract anatomy? Were the Neanderthals members of sapiens or were they a different species? If so did sapiens evolve directly from them? These questions and many more have been debated at great length.

However, it seems to me that what we, and in particular the anthropologists, should also find important is: when homo reached the sapiens stage in evolution, what then happened was that an animal made its appearance on the evolutionary scene equipped with a unique combination of biological attributes making it the most superior organism that had ever existed. And it was not any one of these attributes which gave it superiority. It was not just upright stance with bipedal locomotion, or prehensile hands with opposable thumbs, stereoscopic binocular vision, audio and vocal tract anatomy, or the relatively largest and most complex brain of any organism alive or long since extinct, but a reciprocal and complimentary combination of them all. working one with the other.

We might say it was the supreme achievement of biological evolution by natural selection and it brought with it a new dimension to the evolutionary process — cultural evolution which has rendered further biological evolution by natural selection comparatively unimportant. When someone says to me: what do you think of human nature? What immediately springs to mind is precisely that unique combination of biological attributes possessed by our species, the sum total of which is human nature (as distinct from human behaviour) and is not necessarily connected with human behaviour except that it genetically lays the foundation for human behaviour of virtually unlimited variation and adaptability.

Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1956 described this process admirably when he wrote:
Evolution is a response of living matter to the challenges of environmental opportunity through the process of natural selection. The response of the human species, or rather of the species ancestral to man. was a unique one; it developed the genetic basis for the accumulation of, and for the extragenic transmission of a body of learned tradition called culture. The relations between culture and its genetic basis are all too often misunderstood. This topic is too complex and important to be dealt with lightly, but the basic facts are simple enough. Genes determine the possibility of human speech but not what is spoken. The cultural evolution of mankind is superimposed on its biological evolution; the causes of the former are non-biological without being contrary to biology, just as biological phenomena differ from those of inanimate nature but are not isolated from them. (Evolution At Work — one of a collection of essays in Ideas on Human Evolution. Ed. William Howells).
 I think that it is true that most natural scientists working in the field of anthropology would agree that the Cro Magnon type of homo sapiens of about 40,000 years ago. was not very different anatomically and physiologically from present-day humans and from 40,000 years ago up to the present there has not been any significant biological modifications to our species; and I suggest for the very good reason that there been no necessity for such changes, the biological equipment that humanity already has is sufficient to ensure adaptability to any environment.

Furthermore, there has been no speciation; variation there most certainly is but there is no evidence that any groups of human beings, even those in the most geographically remote parts of the world, have evolved any mechanism which makes them reproductively isolated from any other groups. There has been no necessity for that to happen, because of the ability of the human species to adapt and to change its environment and in so doing to determine its own destiny. Natural selection alone as far as homo sapiens is concerned is no longer operative for further evolution. It can only work to preserve and augment the human ability to create, absorb and transmit culture.

This does not mean, however, that we are making a very good job of it. It is with human behaviour that we have a problem. The human species is at present rushing towards extinction in relation to geological time. (I think that rushing is the appropriate term to use) and if it does not change its behaviour by introducing the much more rational and harmonious social system of socialism (which it is quite capable of doing) it could become extinct very quickly. That would be an irony indeed, when we consider that the dinosaurs, animals which tended towards having very limited brain power, nevertheless managed to exist for about 125 million years and yet the supreme achievement of biological evolution would have become extinct after only about one 3000th part of that time.
Harry Walters

Victim Porn (2016)

From the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
She slowly edges through her darkened house, wide-eyed and terrified of making the slightest sound. She hears a window smash, and gasps, her eyes darting around looking for something to defend herself with. Her heart racing, she reaches out for – but it’s too late. Her attacker strikes…
This could come from any one of many near-identical schlockumentaries lurking around your telly. ‘Based on witness testimony’, they package up peoples’ traumatic experiences with slick reconstructions, ominous narration, and talking heads. A dozen or so programmes rigidly follow this formula, as if they’ve been churned out on a production line.
Imported from across the Atlantic, these shows have ended up on those also-ran channels which clutter up the ether. The Really channel boasts the most, including Paranormal Witness, I Fell For A Psychopath, Stalked: Someone’s Watching, My Ghost Story, Brainwashed, I Survived Evil and When Ghosts Attack, while truTV screens Fear Thy Neighbor and A Stranger In My House. A Haunting can be viewed over on Pick, and CBS Reality brings us I Survived and Ice Cold Killers.
Whether the threat comes from a misfit neighbour (I Survived Evil, Fear Thy Neighbor), abusive partner (I Fell For A Psychopath), deluded cult leader (Brainwashed) or demonic spirit (Paranormal Witness, When Ghosts Attack etc.), each show’s format is the same. Victims, family members, friends and police appear as talking heads. Their stories of being stalked, harassed or terrorised are then retold as reconstructions, filmed with trendy washed-out colours in under-lit rooms. The scenario tends to begin with a nice all-American family moving in to their perfect home. Cardboard boxes are carried in past the white-painted picket fence, while the voiceover says something like ‘It was paradise. For a while…’. The dream home inevitably turns into a nightmare when the neighbour / partner / cult leader / spirit becomes troubling, then threatening, then murderous. The reconstructions make your eyeballs queasy with their shaky, blurry, slo-mo camerawork at jaunty angles. The scenes are rapidly, flashily edited, with every emotion underlined by musical stings and crashes. Cliffhangers are timed to ad breaks, and the schlockiest sequences are repeated umpteen times as flash-forwards and recaps in a desperate attempt to keep us watching.
The most extreme of these shows is I Survived Evil, one episode of which featured a harrowing rape of a woman in front of her children. The family now has the drawn-out, grisly reconstruction as an added reminder of their ordeal. Series like Cold Justice: Sex Crimes and Missing Persons Unit (both truTV) detail how these crimes are investigated by the police, and therefore can at least claim some educational value. The schlockumentaries tend to only focus on the crime itself. There’s not even much emphasis on showing strength in the face of adversity, which might have been used to balance out the traumatic events with something more positive. Instead, the focus is on victims suffering, and women suffering in particular. These programmes seem to be made just to titillate with lurid misogynistic violence. They’re the descendants of the nastiest ’50s pulp novels and ’60s exploitation films.
It’s debatable whether these kinds of depictions of violence desensitise us to brutality, provide some sort of cathartic release, or both. The makers of these shows probably don’t care as long as they attract enough viewers for the channels’ adverts. Whatever other effects these shows may have, the best reaction to watching them is revulsion at how they repackage suffering as entertainment.
Mike Foster