Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reflections (1951)

From the January 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the declaration of Peace in 1945 the “ brave new world ” has been conspicuous by its absence. A brief survey of these post-war years to the present day daunts even the most optimistic nature. Many trusting thousands who built hopes of world peace on U.N.O. have been sadly disillusioned. This truly august body with world-wide ramifications was inaugurated five years ago to ensure Peace, even if it meant fighting for it! (Reminiscent of the Irishman who was determined to pull out the cork even if he had to push it in.) Moving ponderously like a Heath Robinson cartoon in slow motion it cut a ridiculous figure during its early years, as wars of varying degree and intensity broke out over the globe like the pimples on the face of an adolescent youth. Creaking and groaning in every joint it lumbered majestically through mandates, amendments,, vetos, adjournments and so on ad infinitum, also giving birth to a few offspring. Its predecessor the League of Nations, that puling infant of the 1914 war which failed so lamentably to justify its existence, was “small fry” in comparison for in the latest outbreak in Korea U.N.O. shapes up as a powerful instrument for war, revealing the mustering and reshuffling of the various Powers for the third large scale "War-to-end-all-Wars,” now openly discussed in Press and on radio. Under the much publicised banner of U.N.O. thousands of soldiers in Korea kill and are killed, with the ever increasing horrors of modern warfare. Once again we hear on the radio the familiar reports of "saturation” raids, and know that thousands of civilians are being pounded to injury and death in the dust and ashes of their homes. The latest weapon against tanks, annihilates at a “near miss of 200 yards” in a ball of fire. What further horrors will war bring forth? The Korean war is the straw which points the direction of the deadly blasts yet to come, prelude to an act to be “played” no-one knows when, with America and Soviet Russia in the leading roles, each dragging satellite nations in their wake into the maelstrom of Atomic Warfare. The Nazi bogey has been long since hauled down and now the Red Menace hoisted. The vacillations of the Japanese character can be likened to an oscillating electric fan. In 1914 they were our "staunch little Far East Allies.” In 1940 sub-human and bestial brutes, and now they aren't such bad fellows after all, depending of course on which side they line up when the next holocaust arrives.

In the industrial world strikes and labour unrest are the order of the day. Colour-bar troubles splutter intermittently but ominously in America and S. Africa. In India the workers are discovering that “self government” makes not one iota of difference to their miserable conditions and it is immaterial whether British or native capitalists exploit them. At home the post-war years have been punctuated by exhortations to “work harder, produce more, close the gap and save more.” Expanding prices shrink the value of wage packets. Some relaxations in the rationing system bring no relief as many cannot afford the extra cash involved. The housewife plods her weary way, her mind rarely able to rise above the level of the next meal or the weekly budget The monotony of her daily round finds its counterpart in the treadmill of the wage earner himself. Housing shortages result in overcrowding and “in-law” troubles breaking up hundreds of young marriages. Some live under almost unbelievable conditions in slums and cellars herded together like cattle.

The bebop fans and bobby soxers are a product of the age, craving excitement, living for today, subconsciously dreading the hardships and insecurity of a future they fear to face. The origin of crimes is rooted in the system. A miserable environment engenders hatred for a social system that hands out a raw deal. During war thousands are educated to violence and sudden death, trained in the arts of killing and to “get the better of the other fellow.” But in "peace” those lessons must be forgotten or it means the "8 o’clock walk,” not a medal.

In spite of crusades and special efforts to retain its place in the public eye religion is fighting a losing battle. It can prescribe no cure-all for this ailing world or indeed for itself. Even as they chant like the savages in the jungle whom they would self-righteously wish to convert, the staunchest of its followers must find difficulty in reconciling the idea of a merciful and loving God with the world as it is to-day. Its advocates distract attention from the substance of everyday life and. must surely deny themselves the luxury of thinking when they offer the shadow of a mythical future existence.

The pacifist sees the evils of war but not the cause and so is unable to propound the solution.

After over five years of Labour Government even its most enthusiastic supporters must realise that it is not by any means “jam today,” or to-morrow for that matter. Their programme differs only in the main from the Tory’s in regard to Nationalisation, which does not concern the interests of the workers. The National Health Scheme and Family Allowances were Beveridge’s babies, the Labour Government merely adopted them. Unfortunately the idea is quite prevalent that “Socialism” is in the making and this mishandling of the word does incalculable harm to the socialist movement. The Labour Government cannot function in the interests of the workers. It can only try to cope with the ever increasing problems of a capitalist society as they arise, blaming post war conditions, and appealing to the workers for cooperation. There are, however, signs that the workers patience is beginning to fray round the edges.

Leaping back over the past five years and reflecting on the present day we say "a brave new world indeed.” Over the whole of it broods the threat of Atomic warfare, inevitable while this vicious and effete system of Society stands, automatically breeding wars, poverty and untold misery. Only the apathy and political ignorance of the workers steady this palsied and tottering edifice. It is up to them to rouse their comrades and beat the Atom bomb with the establishment of a sane system of Society.
F. M. Robins

The Passing Show: Bill Sikes (1962)

The Passing Show column from the May 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bill Sikes
A new storm is blowing up over the amount of violence on television. As the night's ration of gunfire roars from the lantern in the corner, or bursts through the thin partition wall from the next house, many parents are sincerely worried about its effect on their children. There was much criticism of a recent BBC programme aimed at children which showed the scene from Oliver Twist in which Bill Sikes bludgeoned Nancy to death; and the accidental hanging of Bill Sikes was cut from the following week’s instalment.

It would, of course, be difficult to maintain that the regular diet of shootings, stabbings, stranglings, and knockout blows which is fed to children (and adults) by the television programmes does them any good. But it would be a waste of time to try to trace current “juvenile delinquency” and "violent crime" merely to the television. The whole of our society presents a picture of violence to the impressionable mind. No ruling class could exist without frequent recourse to violence of the crudest kind. While the main prop of the power of the ruling class is constant and insidious propaganda through every medium of communication—press, radio, pulpit, and so on—violence mast be used to punish and deter the small minority who refuse to accept the prevailing notions of private property or otherwise break the law. The television high-ups may censor the hanging of Bill Sikes; but they cannot censor the official and judicial hanging of James Hanratty. And there is no point in banning Westerns when every ruling class in the world, including our own, is prepared in order to achieve its aims to kill more people than all the black-shirted badmen who ever trod the studio boards.


Commodity
Education in any society prepares people to be members of that society. Education in capitalist society prepares people to be members of capitalist society. And in return for a steady supply of workers both at the factory bench and in the white-collar ranks, capitalists are prepared to pay (and have to pay) handsomely. Education to a capitalist is merely a commodity to be bought for a price like any other commodity. If you will not accept this from a Socialist, you may be more ready to accept it from a capitalist. This item appeared in The Times of March 2nd:
The University of Witwatersrand became 40 years old today and received a birthday present of £730,000 from the Chamber of Mines. The money would be spread over five years. Mr. H. C. Koch, president of the Chamber, said he hoped other industries would come to realise that money given to university was not a donation but was a payment fur an essential commodity.
Even a Socialist could not put it more clearly.


Demoralization
Anyone who thinks that only white people can sink to the level of racialism would be well advised to consider recent speeches made in Rhodesia. The publicity secretary of the United National Independence Party said that when UNIP achieved power in Northern Rhodesia it would declare Sir Roy Welensky a prohibited immigrant in the territory: this, he said, would be "the first step in UNIP’s programme of demoralization of the white man" (The Times, 10/4/62). The European, he said, was afraid of the African today, because he knew the African was no longer joking. At the same meeting the publicity secretary of the Southern Rhodesian Zimbabwe African People's Union said that “anyone who lived in Africa must identify himself with the African people. ZAPU would not accept European standards. In Africa no standards would be accepted that were not completely pan-African."

The aspiring Rhodesian African ruling class, having seen how valuable racialism has been to the European rulers of the country, are now trying to drum up support for themselves the same way. The more they can emphasise the irrelevant distinctions between members of the human race, such as colour of skin, the less inclined the African people will be to think about—and get rid of—the really important division in the human race, that between class and class.
Alwyn Edgar

A global capitalist class? (2011)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is there a global, “transnational” capitalist class? This is an issue that is dividing those in what can broadly be called the Marxist tradition (as those who analyse capitalism using the same categories that Marx did; so, very broadly).
One view is that the world is divided into independent, territorially-based states representing and pursuing the interests of capitalists from within their borders, and that the world economy is characterised by competing separate national capitals only. The other view is that the capitalist system has always been a single economy, even if divided politically and geographically, into separate “nation states”, and that the recent globalisation represents the emergence of a global capitalist class not tied to a particular national state.
One exponent of the second view is William I. Robinson who argues in an article “Beyond the theory of imperialism. Global capitalism and the transnational state” in Marxism and World Politics: Contesting Global Capitalism (edited by Alexander Anievas and published by Routledge this year) that:
“We have entered a qualitatively new transnational stage in the ongoing evolution of world capitalism marked by a number of fundamental shifts in the capitalist system, among them:
–   the rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new global production and financial system;
–   the appearance of a new transnational capitalist class (TCC), a class group grounded in new global markets and circuits of accumulation, rather than national markets and circuits;
–   the rise of transnational state (TNS) apparatuses, (…).”

Obviously, national states have not disappeared and are still powerful players in the capitalist economy. Robinson does not deny this but argues that the transnational capitalist class uses them, through favourable politicians and governments, to pursue its transnational interests (rather than them being used by a national capitalist class to pursue its national interests).
Ever since the last World War, freer trade has been the policy of the dominant capitalist countries (in fact it could even be said to have been the main war aim of America and Britain). But has this now led to the emergence of a transnational capitalist class? Robinson makes out a good case for this and it would explain the present stuff of national politics in that a transnational capitalist class still has to act via national states to get them to pursue policies favouring free trade and transnational investment and to set up transnational institutions, such as the WTO and the IMF, to facilitate and regulate this (which he sees as an embryonic “transnational state”).
However, any transnational capitalist class would only be a section of the capitalist class of the world. There are still plenty of national capitalists, actual and would-be, whose interests are not the same as those of the transnational section. So, although political power in the advanced capitalist countries, may be in the hands of politicians favourable to transnational capitalists, there is still opposition to them.
The ideology of national capitalism, reflecting the interests of small-scale capitalists, is still strong and finds support both from the “right” and the “left” (who beat the same nationalist drum during referendums and votes on the EU) as well as from conspiracy theorists denouncing the “new world order”. Outside Europe there are states controlled by opponents of the transnational capitalists such as Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Burma and, above all and for the moment, China.
Leftists in effect argue that workers should support national as opposed to transnational capitalism. Socialists, on the other hand, don’t take sides in this conflict between different sections of the capitalist class.

A Socialist Survey (1914)

From the August 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

We were taught at school that England is a free country. On reaching maturer years, however, we discover this to be a distortion of the truth. It all depends upon a person’s economic status, if he is rich he is free — comparatively. He is free to sweat and grind his poorer “brethren,” to maim and murder them in mines and pits, to butcher them in shunting yards, to drown them in over-burdened ships, to torture and burn them in rubber forests, to run them down and leave them mangled on the highways, and to starve and outrage and seduce them at will, within very wide limits and at a very low price. If he is poor, however, he possesses no freedom in any sense of the word. He is not free to work; he is not free to starve; he is not free to beg; he is not free to steal. He is even “pinched” if he tries to get off the earth.

I am reminded of this by the case of a man named Carter, aged 53 (far too old to work according to capitalist employers, and far too young for an old age pension according to those employers’ politicians), who was charged at the Salford Quarter Sessions with “wandering abroad to beg alms.” This, of course, was a heinous offence, and he was asked to retire under the care of His Majesty for a period of twelve months!

* * *

All that is necessary to ensure the success of any scheme of a “charitable” nature is to back it up with the name of some big figurehead of society, royal or otherwise. One of the latest schemes for parting fools from their money is that known an Alexandra Day. Hardly had the wage-slaves clutched the miserable pittance known as “wages,” when they were asked to “spare just a copper” for the odiferous cause of charity. And the way in which thousands of poor fools tumbled over each other in their eagerness to respond would be amusing were it not so tragic. It is estimated that in Manchester alone the receipts from the sale of roses totalled nearly £4,000. What a lot of plasters this sum will buy for the covering up of capitalist sores!

* * *

It is the fashion now a-days when performing some public function or other, for our noble masters to make some reference to the social conditions of to-day. They pretend a knowledge even when they don’t possess it. A few carefully chosen, high sounding words usually serve the purpose that of impressing their hearers (especially the Press) with the profundity of their “knowledge ”

Earl Grey, in laying the foundation stone of a new institute at Liverpool recently, must have taxed his cerebral tissue to its utmost capacity in order to treat the gathering to the following: “Those who believed that the ownership of property was a trust whose administration was of vital importance to the prosperity and progress of the country, were under a special obligation to take a share in the task of finding solutions for the social and economic problems which confront us.”

Sounds all right when you say it quickly, doesn’t it ? All the same, I don’t see that it matters whether they do or not. The task of finding a solution is not so difficult as the noble windbag seems to think. As a matter of fact, the solution is already found, without the help of Earl Grey or the property owners. The “social and economic problems” are problems no longer as Earl Grey and bis class will discover before very long. Has he never heard of Socialism ?

* * *

Speaking in his constituency a few days ago, Mr. J. R. Clynes referred to the “enormous taxation” borne by the workers. “Session after session,” be avowed, “the Labour Party have put forward in connection with the Finance Bill, proposals to wipe out the whole of the duties resting upon common foodstuffs such as tea, sugar, and currants, and which amount to about ten millions sterling, mainly coming from the pockets of the working class.”

No wonder the capitalists support the Labour Party if this is what they stand for. Abolish the food taxes and you render a great service to those largest of wage-payers—the manufacturers and distributors-since it would enable them to reduce wages.

Mr. Clynes’ point of view is wrong, of course. If it were true that the workers paid taxes, then they would be ten millions in pocket from the abolition of food taxes alone. Is Mr. CIynes prepared to make this claim ?

* * *

Mr. Will Thorne has got the same complaint. Speaking in the Newton Division (Lancs.) he stated that the Labour Party had never moved from their determination of putting the burden of taxation on the rich. They had declared for the abolition of all food taxes, and they intended to keep “banging away” until they bad got them removed.

It is hard to believe that these people do not know that it is the rich who pay the taxes and not the poor. In any case they are people who ought to know better. While such are allowed to stand in the limelight, so long will the workers be dazzled by the rays which emanate from these “lights,” and which, after all, are only the reflections of capitalist economics. Hence the confusion.

* * *

Mr. Emil Davies, the Nationalisation expert,’’ has been propounding for the benefit of the “Daily Citizen” readers, a scheme whereby will be secured what be calls “a just wage” for the worker. As usual, it is a State project, based upon ethical lines.

Mr. Davies believes that “municipalities or State departments are, in a large measure, released from the necessity of making big continuous profits, and are freer to consider the interests of those who are working under it."

A scheme based upon such a belief as this would have just about the solidity the “Daily Citizen" and its dupes look for. But enquiry of the Leeds and other corporation employees might disturb the equanimity of those who hold that municipalities are “freer to consider the interests” of these who work under them.

* * *

A writer in the “Daily Chronicle” (29/7/14) outlining the probable results of the threatened war says: “perhaps the working classes, hitherto so loyal and patriotic, will turn savagely against the powers that be. Let us all, whatever our party, stand together and do what we can to avert this coming disaster."
Tom Sala

Farewell To Tristram (2017)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
There are a number of personal qualities which need to be developed by anyone with ambitions to rise to the top through the pressured universe of politics. For one there is the motivation to refashion the meaning of certain words so that, for example, poverty can be described as security, ruthless calculation as an enduring concern for human fallibility, a ready resort to falsehood as an unshakeable devotion to truth. Also an energising requirement of a talent to face full up to the observant cameras. A recent example of this is Tristram Julian Hunt who, apart from being encouraged to prefix his names with the word Honourable as the son of Baron Hunt of Chesterton and who performed so satisfactorily at Cambridge to earn the title of a FRHistS, won his way into Parliament as the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Until, that is, he was offered the job of Director of the world-respected Victoria and Albert Museum. And apart from all that the 6ft 3 Hunt is a past-master at the photo pose, suitably arranged for someone on the climb – looking straight through to the adoring public beyond with a gently-smiling expression of combined strength and human concern. It also helps to have some relevant architectural masterpiece as a background – in Hunt’s case Westminster Bridge, Big Ben – and to offer a fringe of youthfully ruffled hair across a brain-stuffed forehead.
Stoke-On Trent
This pose was at one with the fact that Hunt had been more or less dumped on the Stoke constituency. Before that he had been rejected as an applicant for the candidature at two other seats. At some stage he had been noticed by Lord Mandelson, Labour’s master of dark manipulation (once described by Hunt, after he had been drinking, as ' . . . the most important ****ing minister in this ****ing government') as a rising star in the drive to turn the party away from the bad old days of attachment to Clause Four. Time was short then to prepare for the 2010 election so Hunt was selected as the Labour candidate (in some quarters said to have been ‘parachuted in’) for Stoke by the National Executive without any reference to the short list prepared by the local Party. This provoked the secretary Gary Elsby, who regarded himself as the obvious choice, to be angry enough to get himself nominated as an Independent candidate – with the full title of ‘Gary Labour Candidate Born In Stoke-On-Trent Elsby’ and to annoy the local party by using the red rose to decorate his election literature. But he received a total of 399 votes against the 12,605 which ushered Hunt into the Commons – which did not apparently instruct Elsby about the cynically determined methods so readily applied by the parties of capitalism when they are under pressure.
Education
In spite of his powerful backers, with the implied assumption that he would soon be among the leading political lights in Westminster, Hunt’s time there was not free of emergencies and doubt. His performance did not in general come up to expectations as he failed to deal with the theatrically loutish bullying. After a short spell as a Shadow Secretary of State for Education he progressed into the Shadow Cabinet in full charge of the Education portfolio, which the more envious of his colleagues described as him being ‘forced like a stick of rhubarb’. He did not come up to the demands of his new responsibilities, in particular those originating from his special rival Michael Gove who wallowed in overseeing Education where his own inadequacies did not prevent him sneering at Hunt for ‘. . . inconsistencies thy name is Tristram’. In February 2014 Hunt produced a book about Frederick Engels, praised by one reviewer for its ‘affectionate objectivity’, but he was not thereby persuaded against breaking a picket line of London University academics who were on strike over cuts in pay. Shortly after this it was revealed that he had received some £74,655 in payment for a research assistant by the financial adviser firm Price Waterhouse and Cooper, who deny having any political associations but agree that they ‘. . . provide limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties in areas where our expertise and knowledge of the business environment can help them better understand technical matters and the consequences of their policy proposals.’
Victoria And Albert
But as his disenchantment with the prospects of a life in politics became more obvious Hunt told the Labour Club at Cambridge University: ‘You are the top one per cent. The Labour Party is in the shit’. Which was a forerunner to his decision in September 2015 to try to appease his ‘substantial political differences’ from the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by resigning from the Shadow Cabinet. When he was interviewed last September about the Labour conference, where he was said to have ‘injected some exuberance into the proceedings with a spirited speech that verged on stand-up comedy’, Hunt did not so much as hint at any doubts about continuing as the MP for Stoke: ‘It is a profound privilege being an MP but you want to have Labour in charge. That’s what we’re here for’. But three months later he announced that he would be resigning from the Commons to take that equally glamorous – and much better paid – job as the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. An especially pertinent comment on this came from ex-Chancellor George Osborne, who wondered if there will ever be another Labour MP by the name of Tristram (Osborne’s first name is Gideon). Hunt commented that he was ‘. . . sorry to put you, the party and the people of Stoke-on-Trent through a by-election. I have no desire to rock the boat’. But the stability of that boat is in doubt. The constituency has been damaged by the decline in the potteries and of the clay and coal extraction which historically provided its wealth. Unemployment has been well above the national average and it recently needed an intense, high profile charity campaign to ensure that the famous Wedgwood Collection should stay in Barlaston while on loan from the Victoria and Albert. The exhibition had been threatened by a debt of £144 million resulting from a subsidiary being broken up and sold – as ordered by rulings from the High Court and the Attorney General. Just another episode in the history of Tristram Hunt and his political ambitions, typical of the blundering politics of capitalism for inhuman cynicism and stress.
Ivan