Friday, April 1, 2016

More Censorship (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Censorship has won another small but significant victory in the granting of an injunction which prevented a programme being shown on TV last month. The subject of the programme, the American pop-artist and film-maker Andy Warhol, is unimportant — it may well have represented the title of one of Warhol’s films, Trash. What does matter is that whatever it had to show or say was, at a few hours’ notice, suppressed: the populace was not to be exposed to unorthodox thought.

The facts of the case were curious. The applicant for the injunction, Ross McWhirter, was able to obtain a hearing and judgement almost immediately. For once, “the law’s delays” were apparently suspended; a facility to be envied by anyone who has spent the usual months waiting for satisfaction from the courts. The allegedly offensive programme was not seen by anyone responsible for its suppression. McWhirter brought his action, and the judges gave their decision, on the basis of accounts in the preceding Sunday’s papers.

This in itself shows the dishonesty of one of the strongest claims of advocates of more censorship. A television film, or even one at the cinema, can, they insist, be seen inadvertently by children or the easily embarrassed. When its contents have been described and publicized, however, it becomes virtually impossible for anyone to watch except by choice. So the suppressive brigade have, as was thought, never meant what their “humane” arguments say. Their position is simple. They want nobody to see what they disapprove of (except themselves, by implication immune from the crudeness and susceptibility of the rest of us).

There is nothing exceptional about people wanting to ban what they dislike: “it oughter be stopped” is a common cry in innumerable contexts. In most cases the plea is recognizably hopeless, squashed by the status quo. But in the fields of politics, sex and — to a lesser extent — religion, the status quo is all ears. Here, the would-be censors are its aides, drawing attention to threats to the stability of society. “Society” means, of course, the capitalist system.

It can be argued that capitalism does not need the traditional family and conventional morality today. It has been dependent on them too long, however, for most of its supporters to be willing to discard them. The view the majority take, therefore, is the one expressed by a well-known entertainer in a libel action some years ago. Asked to comment on homosexuality, he said he believed it was “subversive of the family”, and that is how large numbers of people see any departure from established morality. What is meant is not the family as a human entity, but the family as a support of capitalist society.

None of this is to say that censorship is a conspiracy. It can be; but its normal motive is belief that the “accepted” order is the only feasible one. Indeed, the tightest bondage is round those who profess to be critical of society but think social restraints are necessary: capitalism has them truly by the short hairs. Few people saw anything wrong with President Nixon’s remark, in rejecting the report of the US Commission on Pornography, that since good books elevate the mind bad ones must lower it. 

The presumption made invokes the old question: “Which way is up?” Elevate means rouse, uplift, put higher. The high thoughts, in Nixon’s estimation, would undoubtedly be ones leading to humility, patriotism, diligence, and the ideals in general of the society he represents. The statement in fact is like a coat with sleeves turned inside-out. The inner meaning is that if a book is seen or presumed to “elevate”, in those terms, it is in the running for being “good”. If it points the other way, it must be “bad”.

What nonsense, one might say: except that it is pernicious nonsense. Idiot arguments and humbug conceal the fact that censorship of anything means the suppression of knowledge and experience. Ross McWhirter’s action, was presented as moral; the truth is that it was anti-social.
Robert Barltrop

Are you anti-social? (1973)

From the January 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Returning on the train from Manchester the other day, desperately wanting to nod off to sleep, I was doomed to share a carriage with one of those creatures I dread: the incessant train-talker. To increase my woe, this monster began to discourse upon the nature of the world in such a manner that I felt obliged to attempt to clear up a few of her mistakes.

It all began with complaint about poverty, violence and anti-social attitudes — with which I truly sympathised. Then came that dreaded statement: “But we can’t change anything — it’s all due to human nature”. My heart sank and I felt a huge chasm suddenly open between my travelling companion and myself.

As the conversation continued I began to realise what a mass of muddles has arisen since the spread of Darwinism and the theory of evolution. Uniformed acceptance has moulded our attitudes to our fellow men and given us ideas of man’s social existence as ludicrously unmodifiable. Man is part of nature and therefore, it is often believed, he is involved in a fight for existence which is manifest violently in the animal world and in the battle between nations. In addition, part-time biologists postulate vague statements about “basic human nature” which is generally thought to refer to inheritable, instinctive behaviour lying deep in every human (since the time of the first baby homo sapiens), waiting to show its ugly head — which it is frequently supposed to do — in the form of unpleasant anti-social behaviour.

Such a view is based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of both evolution and behavioural mechanisms. Evolutionary theory is concerned with group or species survival. Obviously, individuals are necessary for these group structures, but stress on the group is a prerequisite for a comprehension of evolution. A successful species is likely to be one that can adapt relatively easily to changing environmental conditions, and examination of the phylogenetic scale indicates that higher organisms appear to possess behavioural systems that give increased adaptability, i.e. they possess a greater capacity for learning with reliance on learned behaviour over purely instinctive mechanisms. Thus, in unicellular and other simple creatures, behaviour is largely due to involuntary and unmodified actions controlled by the genetic material of the organism and elicited with specific environmental stimuli, depending partly on genetic material but mostly upon past experience through learning.

The most dramatic example of this change through evolution is seen in the determination of sexual behaviour in animals. There are three factors involved: genes, hormones, and learning. In very simple creatures, sexual behaviour is controlled purely by the genes which determine whether the organism is male or female. With the evolution of vertebrates, it appears that genes determine the development of the male and female sexual structures, but that hormones secreted by these sexual organs become the important factors in the instigation of sexual behaviour. Hormones are greatly influenced by environmental stimuli and so provide a kind of monitoring system whereby reproduction can be stimulated in suitable conditions. As we pass further up the phylogenetic scale we see the development of better mechanism that allows for the adaptation of the species. In the higher vertebrates, especially primates, genetic material plays a minor part in the development of sexual behaviour (distinguished from physiological structure) and sex roles are determined by a social conditioning, i.e., through learning processes. It is well known that sex ascription will determine the behavioural pattern of the adult human despite the sexual structures so that, for example, a boy who is brought up as a girl will behave like a girl. (In certain cases the picture is more complicated, of course).

Paralleled with the progression from instinctive to learned behaviour through evolution is the development of affection and social behaviour. This is an important step as we see the direct organisation of individuals to ensure the continuation of the group or species. Man is a social animal and in addition modifies his behaviour continuously through learning.

My travelling companion was unaware that the factor that places Man at the top of the genetic scale is his ability to change. She was aware that she was dissatisfied with a world of violence, poverty and anti-social behaviour. Most people feel the same. The next step is to learn how to change the world so as to allow the satisfactory existence of mankind. This is well within Man’s capabilities.

Let’s get together as social creatures and organise our society as we would like it. Let’s have production for use not profit and at the same time remove the evils of war and excessive pollution that threaten to eliminate our species altogether.

Come on! Change for Socialism.

It’s Election Time Again (2016)

Editorial from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Thursday 5 May, elections will be held across the country to elect members for local and district authorities in England, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. In London, there will be elections for the Mayor and for members of the Greater London Assembly.

Through hustings, meetings and TV interviews, the various parties’ candidates will be competing for votes. The Tories will be defending their record in government and claiming that their policies of cutting state expenditure to reduce the government deficit will provide a brighter future for hardworking families. The Labour Party candidates will attempt to convince voters that they have the policies to tackle inequality and the housing crisis. The Liberal Democrats will also claim that they will be working for a fairer society. UKIP will tell us that leaving the EU and curbing immigration will solve our woes. The Green Party will claim to offer a radical alternative with policies that will tackle environmental issues and meet human needs. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will argue that by taxing the rich more heavily, they will be able to invest more in the National Health Service and welfare services. The Women's Equality Party is standing for gender equality in the market place.

The Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru will argue that independence for their respective countries from the UK is the way forward. The Unionist and Nationalist parties will be fighting for places in the Northern Irish assembly.

And yet, in practice, the results of these elections will not improve the lives of working class people. It is little wonder that some will prefer to stay at home rather than go out and vote. What the above parties have in common is that they all stand for some form of capitalism. Whether they are merely self-serving careerists or they sincerely wish to change things for the better, the aspiring politicians will come up against the reality of an economic and social system where profits come before anything else. Instead of controlling capitalism, capitalism will control them as can be seen when George Osborne in his recent budget had to downgrade his previous estimates on future economic growth, due to the recent deterioration in the world economy.

There are political groups that recognise this and call on workers to abstain from the electoral process. We reject this approach and argue that for a socialist working class to gain political power they will need to contest elections at all levels of government in order to capture the machinery of the state. Elections also provide an opportunity for the Socialist Party to make the case against capitalism and for socialism – a world of common ownership and free access to all that is produced. For these reasons, the Socialist Party is contesting three constituencies in London and one in Wales. Our election manifestos and details of how to help can be found elsewhere in this issue.