The Review Column from the September 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
The gaudy ballyhoo of the Democratic and Republican Conventions in America, coming live onto British television screens, gave many people over here the impression that American politicians do not take their business seriously.
This is an amusing notion, considering the record of the men who got the nominations, of the outgoing President and of all their predecessors. All are or were tough, ambitious men, testifying to the fact that the political fight for power over American capitalism is a savage and ruthless affair.
Nobody should think that this does not also apply elsewhere, as a study of the career of Harold Wilson will show. In other countries, too, the political knives are wielded under a cloak of ballyhoo. This is what happens every time a Labour leader makes a speech at a miners’ gala, every time a Tory leader stands up for Land of Hope and Glory.
It is happening when a foreign head of state is paraded through London with the Royal Family, and at almost every public appearance of almost every leader of capitalism.
The alternative to this ballyhoo would be for them to tell the truth. There have been many satirical pieces written, on what would happen if ever a politician publicly dropped the mask. Even when one or other of them has involuntarily come near to doing this — for example George Brown—nobody takes them seriously.
Perhaps, then, the working class not only accept the ballyhoo—perhaps they actually need it. Capitalism is a system of class power, in which conflicting interests and ruling groups struggle for a dominant place.
This struggle is considered important enough to justify almost anything, of which ballyhoo is perhaps among the least offensive. Its existence simply proves something which workers should ponder, as they watch it all happen on the screens in their homes—that capitalism is such a society that it cannot bring its affairs into the light of day but must needs hide them under a cloak of false enthusiasm and optimism.
Why fuss about Scientology?
Is Scientology a fraud? It is difficult to understand anyone being taken in by this religion—for that it what it is— unless they were beyond the boundaries of hope, were ready to grasp the last tuft of grass as they felt themselves going over the cliff edge.
Some people like that are attracted by the cult, as they are by ail sorts of peculiar theories outside the orthodox medical profession (who have had some pretty queer theories themselves). But none of the other unorthodox ideas has come under such a weight of official suppression as Scientology has recently.
Home Secretary Callaghan has refused entry to Britain of the cult’s leader. Minister of Health Robinson has described Scientology as “socially harmful”.
But the leader in this has been the Australian state of Victoria, which has a total ban on the movement. The practice of Scientology there carries a fine of up to £100 for a first, and imprisonment for a later, offence.
This ban followed a report which condemned Scientology as “perverted . . . debased . . . fantastic . . . impossible . . . evil . . .” which is a pretty exhaustive vocabulary of abuse.
However justified these descriptions may be—and the scientologists have several libel actions on the go—the obvious question they provoke is why all these august politicians and institutions should suddenly want to protect us against socially harmful theories.
If they are anxious to expose and prevent fraud, why not start with their own parties, which consistently appeal for votes on fraudulent election promises? Why not denounce the social system which legally robs millions of people of the results of their work?
We do not need men like Callaghan and Robinson to protect us from social harm, but if they are worried about it there is plenty of scope for them. They might make a speech about the distorting effect which capitalism has upon peoples’ lives, which so often goads those people into the despair which makes them easy prey for the medical (as distinct from the political) quack.
The Pope and the Pill
The unsurprising Papal edict on birth control brought the deepest anguish only to working class Catholics. The rich ones—like the Kennedys—can raise large families without any economic problems.
One thing the Encyclical has not done is to end the long dispute about Catholicism and contraceptives. Thus we have recently been entertained with some arguments whose sophistry makes the old one about the number of angels dancing on the needle point look positively clumsy.
For example: did not God give man the ability to make artificial contraceptives in the same way as he gave him the rhythm method which the Pope approves?
For example: if it is sinful to destroy life in human spermatazoa is it not also sinful to destroy it with pesticides, or with anti-biotics, or with the weapons of war?
Through all this the Catholics did not pursue an undeviating course. The Encyclical kept open an escape route by implying an approval of contraception by means of an artificially induced menstrual regularity—which might be taken to include the Pill. And there was Cardinal Heenan’s double act of approving the Pope’s decision while saying that Catholics who practised birth control could also accept the sacrament.
These sophistries are typical of those needed to bolster religious dogma, especially when it is under pressure from the material facts of life.
Intellectual dishonesty and hair-splitting is an unsettling business, much as the Church must be accustomed to it. For the rest of us, the simple way out of the difficulty is to recognise the overwhelming evidence against religion and to look at life in terms not of bigotry but of human interest.