Friday, April 22, 2016

Spanish Civil War (1986)

From the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish civil war in June coincided with the re-election of the "socialist" government of Gonzalez. It presents some curious reversals. The Popular Front government of 1936, which was overthrown in the armed revolt led by Franco, was solidly republican while Franco was monarchist. Now the Spain of Gonzalez is firmly monarchist and was opposed in the general election of June by the party of Franco sympathisers.

In 1936 the Republican government declared that its aim was to establish in Spain a parliamentary system on the British model, though most of that Popular Front's supporters were entirely opposed to a parliamentary system. In 1976 a two chamber parliament, much like that in Britain, was endorsed by 94 per cent of the voters in a referendum, and the "socialist" government of Gonzalez in its four years of office has been running a policy rather like that of Thatcher, a “toughly Gladstonian economic policy", with "tight control of the money supply" (The Economist, 28 June 1986).

Just as the aim of the Popular Front in 1936 had nothing to do with socialism, the same is true of the Gonzalez government. (The Economist, in a nice choice of words describes its policy as "pale pinkery" and says it is socialist "in name only"). The Spanish "Socialist Party", like the British Labour Party, is concerned only with trying to show that it can run capitalism better than can its conservative opponents. Present day Spain has another resemblance to Britain. It has its equivalent of Northern Ireland in the violence accompanying the attempts of sections of the Basque population to set up an independent state.

The Civil War, which cost 600.000 lives, ended with a Franco victory in March 1939. and the fascist dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975. In Britain, the civil war was largely presented in ideological terms of "democracy versus dictatorship", and “atheism versus religion", with supporters of both sides levelling charges of atrocities, but the reality was very different inside Spain. Franco was backed by the Catholic hierarchy and the big landowners but many of the poorer priests supported the Republican government, as did most of the air force and part of the army and navy. It was estimated in 1931 that more than half the land was owned by less than one per cent of the population, the Catholic church being the biggest landowner. It was not the Spanish capitalists who backed Franco. Avowedly capitalist political parties belonged to the Popular Front and although in 1936 the Spanish "Socialist" Party was the largest party in parliament, they were not represented in the government until six months after the war started.

The whole question was overshadowed by the rivalries of other powers, of Germany seeking a base in Spain which would give them control of the Mediterranean and Britain, France and Russia wanting to prevent it. Germany and Italy gave massive support to Franco, as did Russia to the Republicans. The German condition for giving support was an agreement giving them control of the rich Spanish iron ore deposits. The Russian government insisted on being paid for the aid it provided. In Britain most Labour and Liberal sympathy was with the Republicans. The Tory government maintained a policy of "non-intervention" but an influential section of the Tory Party favoured helping the Spanish government against the Franco rebellion. Thousands of volunteers from outside Spain fought for the Republicans and others for Franco.

It was clear from the outset that the issue in the civil war would be largely determined by the amount and the type of aid coming from Germany, Italy, France and Russia. As the war took its course, first one side and then the other gained the advantage. It was the view of Hugh Thomas in The Spanish Civil War that "Germany committed enough war material to tip the balance finally towards the Nationalists". According to the Penguin Dictionary of Modern History (p.306) what led to the final collapse of the Republican armies was a change of Russian policy "which cut off aid from that source". As a Republican writer complained, within six months of the Russian government backing the Spanish Republicans against German arms and troops. Stalin and Hitler were “hobnobbing" under the Stalin-Hitler pact of September 1939. The aid-giving powers. Germany, Italy and the Popular Front government in France were all using the war to test out their new weaponry.

The League of Nations was quite impotent to prevent the civil war or the intervention by the other powers. Its successor, the United Nations, condemned the Franco dictatorship and resolved that member nations of the UN should withdraw their ambassadors. This was largely ignored and it did not prevent the British government allowing a Spanish ambassador in Britain and a British ambassador to be based in Franco Spain. The United States government in 1953 concluded an agreement with the Franco government to give military and economic aid in return for the lease of air and naval bases in Spain. It was the turn of American capitalism to see a vital interest in controlling the Mediterranean, against Russia.

When the Popular Front finally had to admit defeat some of those who had uneasily worked and fought together during the war began to lay at least part of the blame for defeat on each other. The Communist Party view was put by Jose Diaz in Lessons of the Spanish War 1936—1939.
The Communists were the only party to realise how important it was to secure the Unity of the Working Class. That is why the Communist Party strove so stubbornly for the creation of a united trade union centre. But the "Socialist" and Anarchist leaders persistently worked to defeat this end. For they knew that the effect of such a unity would be to strengthen the influence of the Communists in the trade unions and would lead to victory over the forces of reaction. The Communists redoubled their efforts to create a single party of the working class based on the principles of Marxism- Leninism. But the "Socialist" leaders steadily opposed the formation of such a party, which would have ensured the hegemony of the proletariat in the People's Front and the government.
The counter version of the Anarcho-Syndicalist and Anarchist organisations and the "Socialist-Communist" General Workers' Union was given in Three Years of Struggle in Spain 1936—1939. This accused the Communist Party and "Agents of the USSR" of wanting to impose their forcible control on the Spanish Libertarian Movement; of murdering thousands of non-Stalinist comrades; of Stalinist intrigues which brought about "despair and the loss of their best men". About unity it said that in the first two years the slogans of the Communist Party can be summed up in "Better lose the war than allow the Revolution".
"What unity did the Communist Party respect or attempt to establish?— none whatsoever" and finally. "Neither in war nor revolution has anti-fascist Spain had a worse enemy than Stalinism".
The simple truth was that at the time there never existed the basis for unity on the Republican side.

The government, backed by the "Socialist Party" and some trade union elements, could proclaim the establishment of a parliamentary system as the aim of their resistance to the Franco rebellion but the Communist Party, with its Russian links, and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalists, each from a different standpoint, were both violently opposed to that aim. Oliveira, a supporter of the aim of the government, writing in the British Labour Party magazine Labour at the beginning of the war (September 1936) said that the conditions necessary for a successful parliamentary system did not exist in Spain at the time.

But the Spain of 1986 differs considerably from before the civil war. Under the 1982—86 term of office of the Gonzalez government, inroads had been made against the privileged position of the church and the landowners and one critical experience appears to have strengthened the hand of the government in controlling the armed forces, and preventing them from playing politics. This was when an attempt was made by some army officers to stage a revolt, including the seizure of parliament. The rebels may have been expecting support, or at least neutrality, from the king but he immediately came out strongly against them and the attempt was defeated. Spanish capitalism has made great strides towards modernising its industries and making them competitive in world markets. The Gonzalez government has also joined the European Community and entered the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation along with most European countries.

What the Gonzalez government now has to worry about in its task of running capitalism is not military revolt but the kind of problems faced by governments in all the industrialised countries, notably the problem of unemployment. From 11 per cent in 1980 it has risen steadily year after year until it is now 24 per cent, the highest in Europe and almost double what it is in Britain. Like other governments who mistakenly believe that they have only to find the right policy to be able to reduce unemployment Gonzalez, four years ago. promised to "create" 800.000 new jobs. As The Economist (28 June) unkindly points out. unemployment has risen by 800,000 since Gonzalez made his promise to reduce it by that amount.
Edgar Hardcastle

Party news — Socialist activity in France (1986)

Party News from the July 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Paris-based group of the World Socialist Movement, which publishes the journal Socialisme Mondial, recently held the latest in its series of public meetings. The meeting, on the subject of socialism and working-class organisation, was quite well attended, and was also participated in by several members who had travelled over from London, as part of a weekend of socialist activity in Paris.

The rest of the weekend was devoted to running a stall for Socialisme Mondial and the Socialist Party as part of the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière or "Workers' Struggle" festival, which is held in the extensive grounds of a castle in the Val d'Oise. just north of Paris, every year towards the end of May. Lutte Ouvrière  is one of the main French trotskyist parties, not unlike the SWP of Britain in some respects, though perhaps better known. Like the SWP, Lutte Ouvrière  continues to cling to various Leninist dogmas about the workers' supposed need for strong political "leadership" from a self-styled professional vanguard; they regard the state capitalist dictatorship in Russia as being worthy of workers' support On the other hand, they are rightly highly critical of the main reformist parties in France, and in particular of the French "Socialist" Party, which is a reformist party like the British Labour Party and which formed the government in France for the first half of this decade

It is generally understood that the dozens of different political groups with stalls at the festival do not necessarily support Lutte Ouvrière  in any way; they simply pay a small hire fee and then proceed to put their ideas and literature across to some of the many thousands of visitors who pass by during the weekend. It is, in other words, a kind of bazaar, a "free market" of political ideas. (There was. however. no sign of Margaret Thatcher; she must have been peddling her wares elsewhere that weekend). Our own uncompromised and clear case for socialism was amply voiced, both in French and English, and a good deal of the literature was sold.

The festival itself is in fact a remarkable event, and well worth attending, as there is currently nothing comparable in Britain. It is quite a feat of voluntary organisation, with the total number of stalls running into hundreds. Aside from various political parties and groups, there were stalls with food and music from many parts of the world. There is an attempt to create a fraternal atmosphere to contrast, for two or three days, with the alienated and antagonistic world of capitalism. While this can never properly be achieved in isolation there is a strong camaraderie in the holiday atmosphere Long lanes of stalls were renamed with mock road-signs such as "Marx Road' and "Freedom Avenue". Banners were displayed with slogans such as "No socialism without women's liberation, no women's liberation without socialism" One stall invited passers-by to complete a vast jigsaw of the world, as the banner overhead proclaimed: "the whole world is my country".

Perhaps the only dubious gesture of this kind is the issuing of "labour voucher"-type token money for use inside the festival. Extra "token francs" are issued against "real francs". so that the festival currency is "devalued", forcing stallholders who are selling their goods to each other effectively to reduce their prices. This may be of some passing benefit to those who buy more than they sell at the festival (which, of course, would have applied far more to the many trotskyist groups present than to ourselves) But there is a dangerously misleading impression created, that socialism will perhaps have some need of a new type of currency, with which to ration and distribute goods according to some "just” scheme. In fact, socialism means that all property relationships will have ended, so that any means of exchange becomes unnecessary and the money-rationing system for distributing poverty can be replaced with a system of free access, according to self-determined need.

There was an incredible range of American and French trotskyist groups at the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière. Indeed, it was rumoured that some of the American groups had travelled over only to set up their stalls opposite one another and shout tirades of abuse at each other across the grass verges, in a holiday atmosphere. Such scenes did take place. Perhaps the most depressing experience, though, was stumbling across a couple of stalls from which could be heard the familiar English (as opposed to French) jargon, as representatives from the British SWP and RCP stood and sweated over how many years it was before the Russian Revolution "degenerated". To suggest that the Bolshevik or Leninist model for social change should itself be questioned meets with howls of derision from these experts in historical confusion.

The need to propagate a clear case for revolutionary, democratic socialism is more urgent than ever, and at the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière we made sure that some steps, however small at first, were being taken in that direction.
Clifford Slapper

Socialists in Parliament (1986)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists in Parliament
Dear Friends.

In March 1986 issue of Socialist Standard you answer a reader's question by stating that the SPGB seeks to have candidates contesting every election both national and local. This puzzles me somewhat, because I can't see what such a candidate will do, once elected, as they would then have been placed in the position of either having to refuse to assist in administering capitalism (if a majority in the Commons had not been achieved) which would seem futile to me. Or they would be obliged to become reformist in their co operation with the elected capitalists, which doesn't fit in with the SPGB line on reformism, which I wholeheartedly support. After all, if it is not possible for one country to be socialist then it must be even more impossible for part of a government. local or national, to be socialist.
G. W. Dixon
Chatham, Kent

REPLY
Socialism is by definition democratic and the means to achieve it must be democratic. It requires the conscious political organisation of the vast majority of the working class. We contest elections in order for the socialist majority to democratically, through parliament, gain control of the machinery of government.

Elections can also measure the strength of the socialist movement. So far we have only been able to contest one or two seats in any general election, and a handful of seats in local elections. As the movement grows the number of candidates will increase until we are able to contest elections with the full number of candidates; by which time the socialist victory will not be far away.

When socialist delegates are winning seats in elections (both here and in other countries) it will indicate growing support for socialism, and governments will have to take this into account. It will not be a question of co-operating with the administration of capitalism our delegates will have no mandate for this. It is most unlikely that support for socialism will reach maturity in only a couple of constituencies. However if a few delegates are elected a little in advance of gaining the necessary majority in other areas (the hypothetical case of one delegate has been put to us) they would look at any measure in consultation with the Socialist Party. Before instructing the delegates how to vote the Socialist Party would have to take all of the circumstances into account, and assess the likely advantage to the working class and the socialist movement. The decision would be made on the basis of the complete measure and not on the basis of the general aims of the advocates of some reform.

Our candidates stand on a socialist platform — the common ownership and democratic control of the means for production by the whole people — and only seek support for that object. Voters looking for reformist promises have plenty of other parties to choose from. Remember also that those who vote for socialist delegates are not passive electors expecting some government to solve problems for them, are not simply seeking a change of leaders or a different way of running capitalism. They are class-conscious workers who have concluded that only the abolition of capitalism will do and are indicating their readiness to co-operate in the establishment and running of socialism.
EDITORS


Unfair to anarchists?
Dear Friend,

I recently attended a public meeting run by the Dundee Group of the SPGB. Leaving the hall after wards 1 was given a recent back copy of the Socialist Standard (March 1986).

I would like to complain very strongly about your misuse of the word Anarchy (page 3. col. 1): 
It (capitalism) must continue as a system of anarchy. poverty, disease and war.
Surely the phrase "system of anarchy" is a contradiction in terms. Also the use of the word anarchy to denote chaos, social breakdown, loss of the usual amenities of life etc., would not be out of place in a Sun editorial.

Anarchist ideas are peaceful and constructive. If the SPGB expects its ideas to be seriously treated, it should not dismiss other political philosophies in such an unthinking manner. 

Anarchy, peace and freedom.
Karryn J. Karryn 
Whitfield, Dundee


REPLY
Socialists do not — cannot afford to — dismiss any political philosophies, since they are the obstacles to the achievement of the society of common ownership and democratic control of the world s means of life. Much of our work is devoted to analysing our opponents' ideas and wherever possible, to debating them in public.

The phrase which our correspondent complains of means that capitalism is a social system which cannot be consistent and orderly, in the interests of the majority. We describe capitalism's economy as anarchic because the commodity nature of its wealth makes it dependent on the market, which is neither predictable nor controllable. The dislocation between production and sale is the cause of capitalism's cycle of boom and slump. The other characteristics — poverty, disease, war — are additional, connected, symptoms of the system's basic malaise. The phrase as a whole does not have any bearing on the theories of anarchism.

While it is true that some people who describe themselves as anarchists hold ideas which are peaceful and constructive (some very close to those of socialism) there are others who, for example, advocate the violent disruption of capitalism, apparently under the impression that this is the way to bring about the system's abolition. Socialists deny this; capitalism can be ended only through the democratic decision of a majority of conscious socialists. It is not possible to establish socialism through each person acting according to their own individual concepts. Socialism will be a social system and will come about through an organised, systematic struggle — an approach which has fundamental differences from anarchism.
EDITORS

Grief and Cory (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

If ever a politician came to power on the basis of who they were rather than what they stood for, it was Corazon (Cory) Aquino. The new president of the Philippines has no political experience at all, beyond having been married to an exiled political leader who was assassinated on his return to the country

Many commentators have seen Aquino as a People's President', coming to power on a wave of popular support. Clearly there was widespread opposition to the corrupt and vicious Marcos regime  — from the impoverished Philippine workers and peasants, from the Catholic church (the Philippines contains 50 million Catholics, more than any other country in Asia) and from the capitalist class (who were unhappy with the state of the economy and Marcos' own extortions). But while it was clear what these groups were against — Marcos — it is not at all clear what they are for. Aquino certainly has no political or economic programme beyond a few platitudes which are even vaguer than those most capitalist politicians go in for.

It is idle to expect Aquino to be able to solve the problems of the Philippine economy or to benefit the vast majority of the population. Apart from the general uncontrollability of capitalism, she will have to cope with the country's relationship with America. Much Philippine industry is in the hands of American multi-nationals, and the Philippines house the largest overseas American air force and navy bases. Any action that might interfere with the interests of the American ruling class would be likely to bring swift retaliation, economic if not military.

In addition. Aquino is herself a member of the Philippine capitalist class. As a member of the Cojuangco family, she is co-owner of the Hacienda Luisita, a fifteen-thousand acre sugar plantation. This employs 2,300 workers, who earn £1.50 a day (and that only during the milling and planting season). The workers live in delipidated palm and bamboo huts, while the Cojuangco clan live in luxurious villas with swimming pools and servants. The "People's President" is not an ordinary Filipino. Nor are the other members of her cabinet, which includes capitalists who have made their millions from exploiting workers in mines, flour mills and so on.

The new government, then, is filled with members and representatives of the capitalist class. It is the interests of this class that it will defend, whether by anti-working class economic policies or by outright use of force. The Philippine capitalists eventually decided that the Marcos regime was not defending these interests adequately. Quite apart from the personal fortune siphoned off by Marcos and his family, corruption was so rife that efficient economic management was impossible and a massive foreign debt had been contracted. Such considerations led Juan Enrile, Minister for National Defence, himself a multi-millionaire, to launch the military rebellion that precipitated Marcos' fall.

Aquino may not have much experience of political manoeuvring, but she has certainly been learning fast. Within a month of taking over, she has abolished the National Assembly and given herself sweeping powers, said by some to be more far-ranging than those enjoyed by Marcos. No court can question her authority or the validity of any law she decrees. Her personal popularity may mean that for a while she can carry off such measures, but it will not be long before ordinary Filipinos and their masters become impatient with the lack of any economic or political progress. Then Aquino will have to learn the ins and outs of political shenanigans with a vengeance.

Among the problems faced by the new regime will be guerrilla warfare on two fronts. One is against the New People's Army of the illegal "Communist" Party. The other is against the Moro National Liberation Front on the southern island of Mindanao, who are fighting for "autonomy” for Muslim areas. Again, after an initial honeymoon, there will come a time of reckoning when the supporters of these movements will expect major concessions from the government and the ruling class will want the expensive and draining guerrilla wars to be brought to an end.

The Philippines shows that no ruler who has lost support can survive in office for long. In the same way, no government trying to impose its will on a population containing an overwhelming majority of socialists could carry on for long either. But meanwhile the important thing to realise about the Philippines is that it is in no way a popular revolution that has replaced a hated and despotic tyrant with a progressive and reforming champion of the common people. Clearly Marcos' departure is regretted by few outside the beneficiaries of his bribery and corruption. But Marcos and Aquino belong to the same class — the capitalist class — and represent the same interests. The slum-dwellers and child prostitutes of Manila, the impoverished workers on the huge plantations — in other words, all but a tiny handful of the Philippines' population — these may just about notice the change of regime but their poverty and oppression will continue.
Paul Bennett

Students in confusion (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last February the Socialist Workers Student Society of Central London Polytechnic (SWP) ran a weekend of discussion and debate on Marxism for Students. Why Marxism is any different for students, they do not say. But their advertisement said ". . . and still the crisis goes on — not just for Britain — all over the world there seems no way out of the circle of decline  . . .  Russia is no different . . . The Third World sinks deeper into debt and American multi-nationals continually hover on the brink of collapse."

They may "hover on the brink" but the first thing the SWP has to learn is that capitalism will not collapse; also that there is a "way out" of the cycle of decline through the normal economic laws of capitalism. When demand revives the capitalists re-invest and the cycle of boom, depression, stagnation and slump starts afresh.

The SWP's Marxism for Students then turns into an attack on Kinnock because "Labour doesn't do anything" to "challenge the Tories . . .  At no time has Kinnock stood by those who challenge the Tories . . . What is surprising to many socialists in the Labour Party is the way in which the ‘Soft Left' in the Party have danced to Kinnock's tune.” The idea that there are any socialists in the Labour Party is as ridiculous as Catholics in the Ulster Unionist Party or members of the Anti-Betting League in the Bookmakers' Protection Association. Despite the hard facts proving that the Labour Party is a gang of politicians serving capitalism, the old musty Leninist tradition drags on. The entire tone of the SWP is a petulant whine at the "misconduct" of Kinnock, based on the obsolete Leninist notion that somewhere, somehow, the Labour Party ought to be a socialist party because it is financed by the trade unions. "Those who once denounced Kinnock as a scab, now sacrifice all principles in the name of unity", they moan. How the Labour Party, which has never had any principles and has always readjusted its politics to the prevailing wind, could sacrifice something it never had they do not say.

"Many former revolutionary groups joined the labour Party hoping to turn it Leftwards, but instead found it swallowed them up." How delightfully modest and self-effacing not to mention that it was precisely the SWP and its Trotskyite followers who flogged "entryism" (infiltrating the Labour Party) for years, kidding the workers that it could be transformed into a socialist party. After 60 years of floundering and blundering, the SWP has now just realised that "Russia is no different" and that the Labour Party is a bourgeois party. How many decades of progress towards socialism have these Trotskyite red herrings cost us? When will members of the SWP read and study Marx himself instead of Trotsky’s false interpretations? When will they realise that the only way to socialism is through voting, not rioting?

The admission to this mish-mash of confusion cost £7. The Socialist Party has never in all its 82 years charged admission to its lectures, meetings or schools. Our advice to London Polytechnic students is to keep their money in their pockets; instead attend the meetings of the Socialist Party, where authentic Marxism is expounded free of charge, as it ought to be. They can then speed the day when one of the main obstacles to socialist progress — the confused and bewildered Left Wing — will realise their futility and quietly vacate the scene, leaving the way open for genuine socialism and the organisation of the revolutionary democratic socialist movement.

In the same issue of the students' magazine is this gem: "The thing about the SWP is that very few of them are socialists - and even less are workers.”
Horatio.

Confirmation Bias (2016)

From the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new series of articles about rational thinking - and how to do it better

"I had also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer" (Charles Darwin).

In order to be able to effectively evaluate arguments and points of view it is necessary not only to have a good knowledge of logic and logical fallacies but also to have an insight into the psychological processes that contribute to the formation of our beliefs. We all tend to greatly underestimate our own capacity for self-deception. The desire is to see ourselves as fully rational beings but to do so is an act of self-deception. As experimental psychologists have found, we all are subject to cognitive biases and have the capacity to rationalise completely false beliefs. By 'cognitive bias' we mean a frequently observed tendency to error that people make in the judgment of information. Some of these effects are caused by mental shortcuts used when making decisions or judgments, these are called 'heuristics'. Some are the result of motivation, part of an unconscious process in which our brains try to gel all our wants, desires and beliefs into a coherent whole. Over the last few decades a long list of these biases and heuristics has been catalogued.

As Darwin noted, unconsciously or not, we all have a tendency to look for evidence that supports what we already believe and ignore or forget that which does not. This is called the confirmation bias and it is perhaps the most important to know of all the cognitive biases. For example, take the supposed link between a full moon and dramatic changes in human behaviour. Despite there being no significant statistical evidence supporting the claim, the idea still persists in the popular imagination. People remember and recall all the instances that seemingly support the notion and disregard or forget the many more instances that do not. Cases of non-events do not stick as well in the memory. Or consider the results a scientific study. If the conclusion of the study supports a belief that we already hold dear we accept it as a good, solid study. If the conclusion of the study contradicts our cherished belief, we are going to look much more carefully for potential flaws and try to find some way to dismiss it, we may even be less likely to recall it in the future.

Let's try an experiment. Take the numbers 4, 8, 16 and 32. Try and guess the rule that was used to make the preceding sequence. Now write a sequence of different numbers that you could use to test your theory. Write a second sequence that again could be used to test the theory. Chances are you have just written two sets of doubling numbers. If you have, this is a demonstration of congruence bias, something that can lead to confirmation bias, it is the tendency to test our own theories but not to also test alternative theories. The actual rule was simply that each number be greater than the one preceding it. To test that a theory is true we have to seek to disconfirm it, the mistake was to come up with a hypothesis and then repeatedly look for cases that confirm it rather than testing it against other competing possibilities. Unchecked, this tendency can lead people to firmly hold conclusions that may have no statistical basis in reality.

The tendency towards confirmation bias is an inescapable part of being human. It is so engrained that it was not until the methods of science were fully developed that we had a tool to help counter it. To try to avoid bias in our lives we should take a hint from Darwin and deliberately seek out and take note of what appears to contradict our current beliefs.
DJP

What sort of identity? (2003)

Editorial from the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
ID cards are not a new idea: slave masters branded their chattel; Chinese and Russian feudal despots issued passports and papers so that peasants could not leave their allotted territory; racist regimes used them to classify their population. Of course, so have “free democracies” : the USA has had ID cards in many states for years; Germany, France and much of Europe use them. Now Home Secretary Blunkett wants to impose them on workers in Britain too.
The absence or presence of ID cards has not changed one iota the wage-slave of their possessor. Or perhaps vice-versa, since it is the cards that could be said to own the people – the scrap of plastic, the shard of paper, the scarred arm carries the revealed truth of its bearers name, address, citizenship status. Without it, the person would be nothing. If you cannot produce ID, you are presumed to not be who you say you are.
Those who support ID cards point out how we are constantly being asked for identification wherever we go: passports, credit cards, library cards, video store cards, loyalty cards, clocking-in cards; a vast array of cards to show who we are when we are asked; that we are already the possessions of a series of bureaucratically allocated identities. So why shouldn't we mind a consolidation into one, neat, easy to use identity card?
Of course, they are right. The development of commodity society has it corollary in the development of distrust. With the advancement of credit systems, electronic money and e-order of goods, the need develops to be able to seal a deal with the wax of identification. In the absence of being able to “show them the money” it becomes necessary to show who you are, so they can find you if you cheat them. Likewise, with advanced methods of distributing mass produced goods, you need a system in place to stop people just taking what they want, without handing over the moolah.
The parties to a commercial transaction come together as the representatives of property, the qualities of their property determining their respective roles – what Marx called the fetishism of the commodity, in which relations between people become relations between things. The things in question, in the age of credit, include electronic bank accounts, credit slates and memberships of service providing organisations.
The new need for identity goes further, however. Our proponents of ID cards who use the example of passports would probably be surprised to learn that less than a century ago, a person could travel most of Europe without needing a passport to move between countries. The passport became necessary with the perceived need by nation states to protect the specific patches of land they occupied from interlopers.
The new calls for ID cards follow from much the same reason, with immigration being given as a specific impetus. The authorities need to know who belongs to which piece of land, to keep them in their place. This need is given an added edge by their need to make sure that the owners of these patches of land don't spend strained welfare and benefits budgets on workers who aren't going to swell their coffers in return.
The growth of commodity culture means that the authorities, usually the state, need to be able to recognise the parties to the contract. It doesn't need to recognise them as human beings, however, but as owners of property. As potential criminals, presuming they might be lying and that they need to be watched, just in case.
Those who say “If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear” are just as caught up in the same corrosive alienation: unable to see their fellows as human beings, opportunities for advancement and enjoyment; but instead, potential robbers, threats to them and their goods. Such fears, though, are not unfounded. The wolf-eat-wolf world of commodity society, where you are what you own, pits human against human.
The issue for socialists, then, is not ID cards or not ID cards, but a society of creeping fear of our fellow women and men or a society that fosters common trust, common mannerliness and rewards co-operation rather than thievery.

Who dares loses (1985)

TV Review from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The programme TV Eye (31 January) "exposed" newspaper bingo games as little more than a con- trick. The formula used by the newspapers ensures that its readers who "dare" won't win a million. The 'game of chance" is one in which the overwhelming majority have no chance of winning.

Bingo has proved a stimulus for newspaper proprietors' ambitions to increase sales. They can manipulate the game in a number of ways, for example ensuring that a winning number only appears at the end of the week so that players have to buy a whole week's newspapers in order to follow the game. In fact, as Jack Lake on TV Eye showed, they have no chance of winning anyway because certain numbers appear on bingo cards but are never called; the card is invalid before the game has even begun.

The "bingo con" had previously been exposed in a local West Country free newspaper which revealed some numbers in advance. The response to this was that at least one old age pensioner phoned the newspaper begging to be told that it wasn't true, that she really did have a chance of winning the million pound jackpot because she'd been buying three or four newspapers every day.

When a newspaper decides to create a winner, all the other players have their hopes deliberately prolonged until the very last moment, when they are only waiting on perhaps one or two numbers. This is done purposely so that they are champing at the bit for the next game of bingo having been fed the belief that they have only narrowly missed the jackpot this time.

The firm which produces cards in batches of 50,000 sells the game to all of the Fleet Street rivals, only printing winning cards to order. When one newspaper recently accidentally printed one of these numbers its office was besieged by hopeful bingo addicts claiming their jackpot. One woman told of a man who had resigned from his job that morning as soon as he had crossed off the last number His hopes (and those of all the others) were dashed when it was announced that he and thousands of other bingo battlers had won £26.10.

The programme merely pointed out that it was members of the working class who played bingo but did not deal with the reasons for this. It cannot simply be that we all enjoy the "challenge" of crossing out numbers on a printed card, each number representing a hoped-for nail in the coffin of our working-class lifestyle. Most workers' dreams of wealth are pathetically unambitious — a new car. a new home, a piece of furniture, freedom from worrying about how to afford to heat their home adequately throughout the winter and a two-week package tour during their annual summer break from wage slavery. Workers are, simply, driven on to play newspaper bingo by the thought that they may no longer have to depend on a wage or salary in order to live.

TV Eye described bingo as a working class "birthright" — which just about says all that is needed about their poverty, the cynicism of the press — and about the need to organise our escape from it all.
Cathy Gillespie

Obituaries: Renee and Harry Hamme (1986)

Obituaries from the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

To record the death of one member of the SPGB is not an enviable task; to record the passing of two comrades in a short space of time leaves a gap not easy to fill. Renee and Harry Hamme were both members of North West London Branch.

Renee died last Autumn after a short illness, bringing to an end a partnership that spanned many years, not only in the SPGB but also in the World Socialist Party (US). Renee's last visit to NW London Branch was on the night Harry gave a talk on various aspects of psychoanalysis and its relevance to our case. Prior to their departure for America, they had both been members of Westminster Branch for some years. In America they settled close to San Francisco, but despite its attractions they were almost in isolation and missed the comradeship of fellow socialists. The writer, on one of his visits to the States, enjoyed not only their hospitality but hours of discussion covering many aspects of the socialist case. From time to time they attended opponents' meetings, challenging the very roots of the capitalist system and astounding the audience with some revolutionary aspects of socialism. To offset the isolation, Harry wrote a number of articles for the Western Socialist.

A longing for home and for socialist contact brought them back to England a few years ago, to join North West London Branch in January 1982. which they regularly attended.

The death of Renee was a bitter blow to Harry, who died last month. He was tenacious in argument and would never concede a point until completely convinced of its validity. He had plans for some Branch lectures that regretfully never reached fruition. A Master Baker by trade, his doughnuts were the highlight of many Conference lunches and tea sessions.

To their daughters Jane and Barbara, and to other members of the family we offer our sympathy. To the socialist movement, they gave according to their ability. We shall miss them a lot.
Cyril May
North West London Branch