Saturday, April 30, 2016

Peggy Sue Got Married (1987)

Film Review from the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peggy Sue Got Married, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

This is yet another film that attempts to cash in on the seemingly bottomless demand for nostalgic recreations of the 50s and 60s. The story line is a very thin excuse for a sentimental look at American teenagers in 1960. albeit with the benefit of hindsight.

Peggy Sue, played by Kathleen Turner, is the mother of two teenagers and is on the verge of divorcing the husband she met while still at high school. She collapses at a high school reunion party and regains consciousness to find herself miraculously transported back to 1960, when she is just eighteen once again but this time armed with the knowledge and experience gained from adult life. Will she or won't she play her life the same way the second time around?

At first she looks as if she might do things differently this time in order to avoid the painful marital breakdown she knows lies ahead. She takes up with the class rebel who is trying very hard to ape the beat poets by reciting pretentious poetry to her. But the wisdom acquired from experience leads her to turn down his offer of running away to Utah to raise chickens to support his literary endeavours. In the (very gooey) end, love will out. She marries teenage sweetheart Charley again and, as a result of a hilariously unconvincing attempt to resolve the dilemma of how to bring her back from the past, is transported to a hospital bed in the 1980s to find her repentant husband, Nicholas Cage, waiting to tell her that he can't live without her etc.

The director, Francis Coppola, gives the audience one or two nice moments which highlight the changes in social manners and mores that have taken place since the early '60s, such as the end-of-date session in the car when Peggy Sue, imbued with the more enlightened ideas of the 70s and '80s. is trying to persuade boyfriend Charley to make love to her and finally resorts to saying "You would if you loved me!” Charley is outraged: "Peggy Sue, what's gotten into you. That's the man's line!'' But apart from a few one-liners and nicely observed details (like layers of stiffened petticoats) this is an unlikely and cloyingly sweet piece of nostalgic nonsense.
Janie Percy-Smith

The Middle East Cockpit (1967)

Book Review from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs by Norman J. G. Pounds and Robert C. Kingsbury University Paperbacks, Methuen, 8s. 6d.

Even before the discovery of its oilfields, the Middle East was vitally important to capitalism. For this area is the crossroads of the world, where Europe. Africa and Asia meet.

The British capitalist class have always had an interest there, as a result of their possessions in India and the Far East and their colonies in Africa. The decline of the British Empire has made little difference to this, for there are still important trading links with many of the old colonies, links which must pass through the Middle East.

But if the British ruling class has an interest in the Middle East, their influence there is all but dead. Suez was perhaps the final act, the graveyard of British pretentions in the area when the United States showed whose word was law.

Suez was also the political—and perhaps very nearly the physical—graveyard of Sir Anthony Eden. It was typical of the Middle East’s long history of conflict, revolving around its strategic and later its economic importance.

Modem civilisation began in the Middle East, in the great fertile river valleys. Now it is mainly a vast stretch of desert, of oil and of corrupt and wealthy feudal rulers. Oil is now the great king; the Middle East has about two-thirds of the world’s entire supply of it.

Kuwait, which was taken under British protectorate in 1899, has almost twice as much oil as the USA. Production started there in 1946, making the sheik —Sir Abdullah As-Salim As Sabah—immensely rich. The protectorate ended in 1961 but the British troops soon came back when the Iraqis tried to take over. This episode was typical of the Middle East, of its deals, its clashes of interest and its military adventures.

A land apart from the oil sheikdoms is Israel, whose per capita income is nearly twice as high as that of its nearest rival, Turkey. Israel with its developing industries, its modern cities, its military forces and its tourism is the harbinger of the capitalism which must develop in the Middle East and which must transform the economic and social set up there.

The University series of Atlases is a useful collection of small guides. The maps are interestingly drawn and their commentaries full of facts. This latest in the series can be recommended to anyone looking for some quick, easily digestible information on one of the world’s most romantic, wealthy, depressed and fought-over places.
Ivan

Rear View: The futility of reformism (2016)

The Rear View column from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The futility of reformism
'That new soccer ball you just bought your child? If it came from China, it could have been made by workers who work up to 21 hours a day. That trendy mineral makeup on your face? A child in India could have spent long, hot days mining the sparkly mica in it ... click on SlaveryFootprint.org. The website is run by a non-profit working to rid the world of slave labor and human trafficking. By answering just a few questions, the website will tell you how many slaves work for you. Child laborers around the world make bricks, farm, weave rugs, dive for fish, work as prostitutes and soldiers, and dismantle toxic electronics. It’s estimated that about 27 million people work under slavery conditions around the world, many with a direct connection to something you own or use right now' (charlotteobserver.com, 3 March). This site promotes social activism not socialism, reform not revolution. Socialists as individuals may eschew meat, Microsoft, or motor cars, but know until the majority of us wage slaves come to understand capitalism and act to overthrow it, little will change.
Fighting their wars
'One of our servicemen or ­women commits suicide almost every two weeks, figures obtained by the Sunday People reveal. Nearly 400 troops killed themselves between 1995 and 2014. Hundreds ended their misery on military bases over a 20-year period in which we fought battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now victims’ families have blasted defence chiefs, accusing them of failing Our Boys. Karen Bonsall, whose son Private Lee Bonsall, 24, was found hanged in woods near home in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, four years ago, said the figures were the tip of the iceberg' (mirror.co.uk, 5 March). The way to end war is by removing its cause, capitalism. There can be no lasting peace for the living while capitalism remains.
No war but the class war
'Litter has become a weapon of class war in Britain, where a campaign urging people to Clean for the Queen has stirred both trash-tidying volunteers and howls of anger. The campaign, backed by charity Keep Britain Tidy, urges people to spruce up their communities before Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday, which is being marked in June. What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean up our country? the campaign asks on its website ... But some find the idea of tidying up to honor a hereditary monarch insulting. Graham Smith of anti-monarchy group Republic suggests the Queen put some of her fortune into cleaning the streets as a thank you for her years of privilege' (abcnews.go.com, 4 March). It is of no consequence who sits on the throne, or whether a republic is established. Nothing will change as long as capitalism reigns.
Another old parasite
According to government figures released earlier this year, up to 2.4 million People in Zimbabwe are described as food insecure. The same cannot be said for President Mugabe who 'has already been in charge for 36 years and, at 92, is the world’s oldest serving head of state. But the veteran leader says he is not done yet. Mugabe plans to live until he is 100 and indicated that he would remain president for life...' (newsweek.com, 4 March). We are informed that a 92kg cake was shared with his entourage and 92 balloons were released on the occasion of his $1m birthday bash. This in a country where the average life expectancy is 57 years and over 70 percent exist below the poverty line. There is no reason for our class to celebrate with former freedom fighter Mugabe on the anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence later this month.
UNacceptable
That the United Nations has a long list of failures comes as no surprise to socialists knowing that the 99 percent worldwide experience war and want–endemic features of capitalism. Recent additions to this list include new allegations of sexual exploitation and Zero Discrimination Day: '.. . commemorated on March 1, there was an implicit commitment by the 193 member states to abhor all forms of discrimination...including against women, minorities, indigenous people, gays and lesbians and those suffering from AIDS. But apparently there seems to be one notable exception – refugees and migrants ...' (ipsnews.net, 3 March). John Boyd Orr, former director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, was candid in stating: ‘a world of peace and friendship, a world with the plenty which modern science had made possible was a great ideal. But those in power had no patience with such an ideal. They said it was not practical politics’ (Daily Herald, 29 July 1948).


Small Town America (1987)

Film Review from the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blue Velvet and Stand By Me are both films about small town America and the 'end of innocence'. Both. too. strip away the veneer of conventional suburban life to expose a more sinister reality.

David Lynch's Blue Velvet is much the cleverer, wittily combing genres — psycho-thriller and boy- meets-girl romance — and extending them to their absolute limits. The film opens with a picture of benign American suburban life: white painted clapboard houses, brilliant yellow tulips against a white fence and brilliant blue sky, verdant lawns, cheerful children, serenity and harmony. The spoof becomes obvious when a fire engine, complete with cheery, waving fireman, passes down the street in slow motion. The genre switches to that of thriller when the central character. Jeffrey (played by Kyle Maclachlan) finds a severed human ear on wasteground and sets out to discover who it belonged to. In so doing he enters a sleazy world that he had no idea existed, inhabited by the maniacal mobster. Frank (Dennis Hopper), and the mysterious Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and observes, and becomes caught up in. their sado-masochistic relationship. At the same time Jeffrey is playing his part in the wholesome romance with "girl-next-door", Sandy.

Blue Velvet is clever, well-observed and at times extremely funny. But there is a serious side to it. Although both sides to the film — apple-pie American and grotesque underworld — are caricatures. they are familiar images. The former could be advertising cornflakes or soap powder, the latter is typical of countless B movies. The fact that reality lies somewhere between the two extremes makes the film no less disturbing.

Stand By Me is less witty but ultimately more subtle. A writer looks back to what was for him two formative days in the summer of 1959. In company with his three best friends, he sets out on a two day hike in search of the body of a child who had gone missing from his home town. The journey begins as a childish adventure but ends with the discovery not only of the missing child's body but also of the unhappiness and confusion of the twelve year old boys as they confront the reality of their own lives and those of others around them. Stand By Me is evocative of childhood relationships, contains some funny moments, but is, for all that, a painful film.
Janie Percy-Smith

Party news (1987)

Party News from the September 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Tolpuddle Martyrs' rally each July, thousands of workers gather together to remember six Dorchester farm labourers who in 1834 were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for trying to form a trade union. In the last five years members of The Socialist Party have been active at this event, selling literature and putting forward socialist ideas. Once again this year we stood out as the only movement arguing for the complete removal of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. As is usual the left in general presented the case, in one way or another, that we should all content ourselves with the aim of replacing one capitalist government with another.

Bournemouth Branch, the nearest to Tolpuddle. was well supported by members from Islington, Eccles, Guildford and Bristol. One member from the Bristol branch was particularly keen to help out as he first came into contact with socialist ideas at previous Tolpuddle rallies. The fact that it rained for most of the day did little to dampen interest in the ideas we were promoting and as in previous years our stall was certainly among the busiest and even managed to get itself on a local television programme, TV South.

Workers attending these type of events up and down the country and of course many who don't attend them, are looking for political ideas different from those that in the main were in evidence during the election. Many of those who previously looked to the Labour Party and its left wing allies are particularly open to a growing realisation that these parties no longer offer an alternative, tied as they are to the dogma of a vanguard leadership and state ownership.

One hundred and fifty years after those six farm labourers were transported workers still face state and employer repression for trying to organise and defend themselves. In Britain events in recent years and the kind of trade union legislation which has been passed are proof of this and in many parts of the world workers face far greater repression, including imprisonment and even death, for attempting to organise. The best way to pay a real tribute to workers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs who were involved in the early struggles of the working class movement is not just to organise annual events nor simply to take part in the same struggles over and over again. Certainly workers must organise to defend themselves within capitalism but they must also set their sights on a wider goal, namely to end the system that makes such struggles inevitable.
Ray Carr

Obituary: "Tubby" Spiess (1987)

Obituary from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

With regret we learned of the sudden death of our Comrade Spiess in May. Born in Switzerland, he came to live in London as a small child when his father came to England looking for work.

Tubby worked for many years as a chef in the Merchant Navy, this career coming to an abrupt halt on the outbreak ofWorld War II.,when as a Swiss National, and therefore regarded as a Neutral, he was not allowed to remain at sea.

As a young man he came to know the Socialist Party of Great Britain and to agree with our case for socialism, but due to many circumstances, did not at that time join. At a relatively late age. he sought out the Socialist Party once more, first regularly attending propaganda and branch meetings. then at last becoming a member (of South West London Branch). In the years that he was a member, he could be seen at meetings, education classes and sitting outside Head Office selling literature and speaking and discussing with interested passers-by. Several members joined through contact with Tubby. All his activity was in spite of poor health and disabilities.

He was a gentle man with a gift for communicating. especially with the young, and he had a great affection for both the Party and its members. Tubby will be much missed in the branch and in the Party, and we offer sympathy to his sister, nephew and niece.
Phyllis Hart

Poverty of charity (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poverty in its various manifestations and intensity is a historically marked feature of capitalism. So great is the problem that charities publish month after month a stream of statistics from around the world, each more harrowing than the previous. In November last year we learned from the Child Poverty Action Group that since its formation twenty-one years ago there are now currently twice as many people dependent on Supplementary Benefit while one third of this country's child population live either on or below the official poverty line. Confronted with these statistics, there is a very real sense of impotency. It is difficult enough to help the thousands of destitute in this country let alone the millions elsewhere in the world. It is not as though there is a lack of compassion. Far from it. The money which is donated to charities each year bears witness to this fact. So too does the selfless effort of thousands of volunteers. But what is lacking is any realistic solution to the problem of poverty. The fact that we. as a class, do not control what is produced and have no say in how and where it is distributed means that the problem of poverty can never be tackled in a rational and global way.

Another problem lies with the nature of charities themselves. We do not doubt their sincerity or compassion but they foster the dangerous illusion that, either through increased donations or political pressure on governments, the problem of poverty can be solved within capitalism itself. Furthermore, because charities have not the faintest idea of how and why capitalism functions (they would not be charities if they did), they can only add to the problem. By actively promoting the naive belief that poverty can be solved under capitalism they are doing both those they seek to help (and the socialist movement in particular) untold harm in wasted time and effort. Human suffering and poverty will not go away by appeals for charity. Poverty is part and parcel of a commodity producing economy. Where there is capitalism there is poverty.

Socialists are not indifferent to human suffering but we have pointed out to organisations such as CPAG and War on Want that the technical capability exists to solve the problems of starvation and poverty. What does not exist is the social structure in which technical production and distribution can be matched to people's need. Capitalism is a world of deliberate scarcity, in order to pursue the aims of competition and profit.

In the face of decades of failure it is sheer futility for charities to appeal to governments, or to capitalist organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the hope that they are willing or indeed capable to help. Governments and the institutions through which capitalism functions are not there to solve social problems. They are there to serve the interests of capitalism. Charities should admit that not only have they failed to stem the rise in poverty but they have been seen to fail. That for every one pound that went from organisations like Live Aid two pounds went out again to the IMF in debt repayments is irrefutable evidence that charities, despite their good intentions, have failed badly. Aggressive competition and ruthless profit-making dictate the terms of trade — not politicians or government ministers. Their job is to administer capitalism in the best way they can. Organisations like CPAG and War on Want should face the fact that there can never be an "acceptable face" of capitalism. Charity is not sweet; it is cold deception.
Richard Lloyd