Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Film Review: Home Town Story (1951)

Film Review from the November 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Home Town Story' (Director: Arthur Pierson)

The editor of an American small town newspaper embarks upon a press campaign against the high profits made by various large factories. He eventually “treads on the corns” of MacFarland, the owner of a local surgical apparatus factory. MacFarland interviews the editor and explains that in capitalist production it is not only the capitalist class that reaps a profit. The consumer also gets an interest by getting from the commodity a utility value greater than the commodity’s price. All the modern advantages of scientific and mechanical progress, MacFarland further contends, are due to the expansion of capitalism.

The editor rejects this argument and proceeds with his campaign.

Eventually his school-girl sister, through a land slide, is trapped in a disused shaft. With the use of vast excavating machinery an entrance to the shaft is cleared. The child is rescued but so terribly injured that her life can only be saved by an operation within two hours. She is flown to hospital in MacFarland’s plane and is successfully operated upon. It transpires that the surgical apparatus used in the operation is one produced in MacFarland’s factory.

These events lead the editor to abandon his campaign and to boost henceforward the mechanical advancement and social advantages achieved by capitalist production.

All this may sound convincing to those lacking knowledge of capitalism’s processes. To the Socialist it is both hypocritical and fallacious.

In the economics of capitalism “profit” means only one thing—i.e., the interest or dividends arising from the workers’ mental and physical energy. The capitalist in real life is not concerned with the utility of his commodities as long as those commodities will sell and bring profit.

This quest for profits is the force which has hastened the expansion of capitalism and brought the mechanical and scientific advancement necessary for profitably expediting capitalist operations. Roads have been laid to facilitate the conveying of commodities; many and various means of transport have been manufactured to carry the workers to and from work, and commodities from sellers to buyers. It can even be said that the advancement in medicine and surgery is largely prompted by the capitalist desire to maintain greater physical fitness and productive capacity among the workers, and, in war, to patch up the wounded that they may fight once more.

And what of the mechanical and scientific instruments of destruction produced and brought into use when the seeking of markets, etc., eventually brings war? What of the submarines, the bombers, the guns, the poison gases, the atom and hydrogen bombs? Were these produced, and can they possibly be used, for the benefit of mankind?

The machinery which within Socialism would lighten the work of the community is, under capitalism, the means of throwing many wage slaves into the ranks of the unemployed. The planes which in a classless society would be for the convenience of all are, under capitalism, destroyers and mutilators of men, women, and children. The vast weapons of destruction which would be non-existent and unnecessary in a sane social order are, under capitalism, vital necessities for carrying on the wars of capitalism.

In isolated and individual cases highly developed machines of modem science and invention may be used solely for humanitarian reasons. As a general rule, however, modem machinery is used only for speeding up production or increasing the lethality of capitalist wars.

If the makers of “Home Town Story” had tried to give a true picture of capitalism they would have found nothing to vindicate it, but much to condemn.
F. W. Hawkins

50th Anniversary Russian Revolution (1967)

From the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Curtain Raiser
On March 8th 1917 (February 23rd by the old Russian Calendar) on the streets of Petrograd, a demonstration exploded into a riot, and the riot into a revolution. It was the kind of classic situation that would appeal to a romantic—a spontaneous uprising against tyranny with strikes and demonstrations, the massing of the workers on the streets, and the slow crumbling of authority as regiment after regiment swung over to the insurgents. In just over a week the Tzar had gone and with him the whole apparatus of the State. The scene was set for the much more famous October revolution. It was indeed a curtain raiser.

How could such an event have happened? It was completely unrehearsed and unorganised. Thee workers and soldiers, in whose hands the city lay, were unled and the revolutionary parties were every bit as surprised as the authorities. They trotted behind events as confused as everybody else, and only when the last vestige of authority had gone and the impetus had begun to slacken, did the masses start searching for somebody to take over the controls. What had led up to this situation?

Tzarist Russia was an autocracy at once repressive and inefficient. There was no serious political authority except that of the Tzar, operating through the Army, the Bureaucracy and the secret police. The Church was servile to an extent rarely found elsewhere. The Tzar was backed by a close knit landowning aristocracy immensely wealthy, powerful and cultured. Their wealth and power rested on a peasantry, not far removed from serfdom, who were poor, illiterate and superstitious. The peasantry made up over 80 per cent of the population, and so were the dominant factor in the situation. There was a small class of merchants, government officials and capitalists, and a small but rapidly growing industrial working class.

The system was completely unbending and incapable of compromise. Ministers of State were mere functionaries, who could be dismissed at will by the Tzar, while the Court, as is inevitable in an autocracy, was rife with intrigue. Groups and individuals strove to sway the Tzar and Tzarina, who alone could make ultimate decisions. The most famous of these was Rasputin; among a Court crawling with adventurers, he was merely the most successful. No member of any liberal or revolutionary party had been able to obtain any political experience prior to 1905, and not very much after, this factor combined with a constant, though inefficient, policy of suppression, resulted in political parties and groups existing in a vacuum, out of touch with the realities of politics. This inexperience was to show itself plainly at a later stage, when the liberals were confronted by a realist of the calibre of Lenin.

Capitalism had come late to Russia, but when it did arrive it made rapid progress. The population at the beginning of the 19th century consisted almost entirely of peasant serfs, with a nobility and a middle class of merchants, officials and professional people. There was also a tiny city population.

By the beginning of the 20th century enormous businesses had been established mainly in the metallurgical, mining and textile industries. The railways had arrived and serfdom had vanished. A pushing middle class, whose social habits resembled those of the bourgeoisie of Tudor England, had emerged, as well as a growing industrial proletariat.

Much of this was achieved by foreign Capital — mainly French, British, German and Belgian. This was one reason for the political weakness of the native capitalists; foreign capitalists were not unduly worried about internal conditions, as long as the profits flowed. The number of industrial workers in 1801 had been under 100,000, but by the end of the century the number topped one and three quarter million. In a mere 9 years between 1861 and 1870, the urban population jumped from 4½ million to 6 million. But even so by 1917 there were still 16 peasants for every worker.

The gulf between industry and agriculture was immense. Agricultural methods had hardly changed since the 17th century, while industrial methods and organisation in Russia were comparable with those elsewhere. More important was the fact that owing to outside capital being used, the enterprises that were set up were large concerns. In countries where capitalism had developed from within, the usual sequence was for small concerns to grow slowly into large ones. This process was by-passed in Russia—a fact which had great political significance; large numbers of workers under one roof were easy to organise politically. Workers' solidarity in the factories was consequently great.

The peasants on the other hand were politically non-existent. They were the rock on which much political theory foundered. The limit of their aspirations was to own the land that they worked. Discontent had been accumulating for centuries, exploding into countless peasant uprisings which, being without any clear aim, were easily crushed. The revolts were violent and bloody, and they were suppressed in the same way.

The tangled web of Russian political thoughts in the 19th century had divided into two main camps—Liberal and Revolutionary. The Revolutionaries were divided into Populists and Marxists. Constant suppression, and the complete disinterest of the peasantry, kept them all very small in numbers, and led to fragmentation and dispute. The fact that the peasants were the bulk of the population put them into the main stream of political thought.

The Populists who emerged in the later half of the 19th century looked to the peasants for salvation; their slogan was “Go to the People”. Needless to say the “noble” peasant, as envisaged in the drawing rooms of Petrograd, had little connection with the real article. The Populists sought to establish a kind of agrarian Socialism based on the village commune. During the summer of 1874 thousands of young men and women dressed up as peasants, and went into the countryside to rouse the peasantry. They urged them to adopt modern methods of agriculture, so that they could emerge as a force in the land. They hoped that a vitalised peasantry would give rise to a spontaneous mass movement.

The peasants treated these interlopers with contempt and hostility while the police, who did not have the sense to leave them alone to break their hearts on this brutish mass, arrested them in thousands. However the Populists had another side to their theories—terrorism. The assassination of the Tzar in 1881 was a Populist action. Out of the Populists came the “Social Revolutionary Party”, which was to play a great part in the events of 1917.

The other stream of revolutionary thought, the Social Democrats, influenced by Marx, based their hopes on the rising working class. They argued that only when Capitalism had been fully established in Russia, and the working class were developed, could the move to Socialism take place. As with all other political parties and groups in the pre-revolutionary Russia, it is difficult to pinpoint a definite line of argument, because of constant dispute and fragmentation.

In the early days, some Social Democrats were left alone by the secret police, because their insistence that “Capitalism” must precede “Socialism” led to the misunderstanding that they were pro-Capitalist. By and large they opposed terrorism as futile and unnecessary, but again a minority leaned towards it. Others opposed aid to peasants during famine, on the grounds that it was hindering the growth of Capitalism, and thus of Socialism.

The first Russian organisation to propagate Marx’s ideas was the Emancipation of Labour group in 1883, followed by a mass of discussion groups, clubs and circles. In 1895 an attempt was made to unify these in the Fighting Union for the Liberation of the Working class. In 1903 The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, formed in 1898, split into two wings, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The Russian Social-Democrats were steeped in venomous factional strife with constant denunciations, splits and excommunications which made the most bitter political enemies outside Russia look like a band of brothers.

Throughout the 19th century there was another division of thought which must be understood, because of its effect on later events. This was Westernism and Slavophilism. The first of these looked to the West, and thought that Russia’s path lay in catching up with Western Europe, while the second rejected the “decadent culture of the West” and looked to “native Russian institutions” as the road to salvation. These theories went far beyond the nationalism of the rest of Europe and compared with the worst racialist theories, although they were not couched in terms of “blood” but of “cultural patterns”. The division ran through all the parties, including the Social-Democrats, so that Internationalism, and a desire to cut themselves off from the rest of the world, existed side by side in the same organisation. This political dualism was amply demonstrated by the Bolsheviks when they obtained power.

The Tzarist government showed amazing resilience. By its refusal even to contemplate compromise, and by the unrelenting attack on all forms of opposition by the secret police, the Okhrana, it held off the day of reckoning. At the same time it ensured that the day, when it came, would be bloody. All the ingredients of revolution were there, but it was the Great War which destroyed the props behind the facade. In the first few weeks it became obvious that the Russian Army, although it could hold its own with the weaker Austrians, was no match for the Germans. Within a month the Russian Second Army was encircled and annihilated at Tannenburg in East Prussia. The Russians only advantage was in numbers, and the government tried to block the gap with bodies.

Fifteen and a half million men were mobilised and about eight million were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Only the vast distances to be covered, combined with the fact that the Germans were locked in a massive struggle on the Western Front, prevented a break-through. The civil population were reduced to starvation with little fuel to meet the Russian Winter.

When in 1915 the Tzar, who was incapable of organising anything properly, took absolute command of the Army, it was just a matter of time. Bureaucratic inefficiency by both the General Staff and the War Department, and out of date methods combined with a blockade, contributed to the downfall but the real reason was that Russian industry was unable to sustain a war of this magnitude.

One of the mainstays of the monarchy had always been the army. The regular army was a group apart from the rest of the population, and completely loyal. They could always be relied on to obey orders. But the terrible slaughter had largely wiped out the regulars, particularly the officer class who went over the top standing erect, and were special targets. By 1917 the bottom of the barrel was being scraped, and crack regiments were filled with men who would never have been entertained as recruits in peacetime. All was ready for the collapse.

The March revolution took place entirely in Petrograd. Once it was accomplished the rest of the country followed suit. Throughout the winter there had been a rash of small strikes. The shortages of war were accentuated by muddle and corruption, and workers and housewives often had to queue for hours for basic essentials like bread. Wartime industries had added an extra 400,000 workers to the population of the capital, and this increased both working class strength—and their problems.

The day that was to begin it all was International Women’s Day, with all the usual demonstrations, meetings and speeches laid on. None of the revolutionary parties were calling for any real action, for they did not consider the right moment had arrived. During the morning women workers in some textile factories began a run-of-the-mill strike. They demonstrated outside empty shops, as they had been doing regularly for months, and marched about shouting for bread. Other workers came out in sympathy until about 90,000 were out. They flocked onto the streets of the Vyborg district, and then drifted into the city proper. Some troops were out, but nothing much happened, and the day ended quietly.

The following day, March 9, found half the workers out on strike, and slogans attacking the war, the autocracy and the police began to appear. The Cossacks, the traditional riot breakers, charged the crowd but without any real venom. The crowds pelted the police with stones and ice, but were tactful with the soldiers. The day ended with the strange spectacle of rioters cheering Cossacks. By March 10 a quarter of a million workers were on strike, shops had closed, and tramcars stopped running, Petrograd was at a standstill. Shooting began between the crowd and the police. Later the police withdrew and the troops took their place. Already the unreliability of the army was becoming apparent.

At this stage it was still only a massive disorder, a general strike combined with mass demonstrations. No serious clash had yet taken place. What is more nobody, neither government nor revolutionaries, realised just what was happening.

The next two days provided the climax. The military commander of Petrograd, Khabalor, gave orders for a counter attack. This was the point of no return. Gradually the army swung to the side of the revolutionaries, and began to fight the police. By March 15 the city was entirely in the hands of the insurgents, and the Tzar had abdicated. The second stage was about to begin.
Les Dale

What Marx thought (1972)

Book Review from the July 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Thought of Karl Marx, by David McLellan. Papermac. £1.50.

Despite the over emphasis on the philosophical and Hegelian aspects of Marx’s thought, this is a good introduction to his writings which also provides convenient translations of passages from some of Marx’s less accessible works.

McLellan, as a professional political philosopher himself, is naturally more interested in Marx the philosopher than Marx the economist. True, Marx wasn’t an economist pure and simple. He was a Socialist too and regarded economics as merely the study of the production and distribution of wealth under capitalism. True also, he employed Hegelian language and concepts to put over his views on capitalism and Socialism. As Lassalle put it, Marx was “a Hegel turned economist and a Ricardo turned socialist”. But all this does not alter the fact that his most important writing was Volume I of Capital, not the Grundrisse or the Paris Manuscripts. This was the longest of his writings he himself saw to publication, and it is essentially a book about economics.

McLellan is clearly out of his depth when it comes to economics and his discussion of Capital is one of the weakest parts of this book. His discussion of “future communist society” is weak too, despite his realising that for Marx this was to be an international, stateless, moneyless society. But he does give sensible explanations of the Jewish Question and the dispute with the anarchist Bakunin. McLellan also points out that Marx thought the workers’ party “should be a democratic, open organisation guided by decisions taken by majority vote at annual congresses”; that the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” was "seldom used by Marx and never in documents for publication”; and that “Marx never claimed that the proletariat would become immiserised in any absolute sense”.

One of the passages McLellan has found about Marx’s views on the possibility of the peaceful abolition of capitalism reads:
   A historical development can only remain ‘peaceful’ so long as it is not opposed by the violence of those who wield power in society at that time. If in England or the United States, for example, the working class were to gain a majority in Parliament or Congress, then it could by legal means set aside the laws and structures that stood in its way (quoted p. 201, from the East German edition of Marx and Engels Werke, Vol. XXXIV, p. 498).
Marx, however, still believed that such a peaceful take-over of political power might later be opposed by a “slaveholders' revolt”.
Adam Buick

Nationalisation changes nothing (1984)

From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing, after months of an overtime ban designed to force the Coal Board to increase their offer of a 5.2 per cent increase of pay, most areas of the industry are on strike against pit closures, with the NUM President and Executive trying by mass picketing to force the areas which voted against the strike to join in. If the members of unions are to maintain democratic control of their own affairs in their own hands, it is essential that there should be a ballot before a strike begins and a ballot on acceptance or rejection of the terms negotiated by their leaders for calling off the strike. In the present dispute the NUM President and Executive have consistently refused to take a national ballot, one of the results of which has been conflict between miners wanting to continue working and miners trying to prevent them.

At the same time the courts became involved. Under the law as amended by the Thatcher government it is illegal for pickets to operate elsewhere than at their own place of work. The National Coal Board were awarded a court injunction forbidding the Yorkshire Miners Association to send pickets to other areas but delayed taking the further step of going to the court with a request that the Yorkshire Association be fined for its continued breach of the injunction. The NUM obtained promises of support from unions in road and rail transport and in steel, designed to prevent the movement of coal or its import but unions in the electricity power industry refused to help and gave instructions to their members to cross picket lines and continue working.

The background of the dispute is a complex one. It involves great changes in the techniques of coal cutting; the price at which the NCB can market its coal in competition both with imported coal and with the cost of power generated by oil and gas and atomic energy; and what will be the future demand for coal if North Sea Oil goes into decline. While modernised pits can produce at highly competitive prices and make a profit, there are others which make huge losses. In the former the miners can look to continued employment but in the latter the prospect is that the jobs will disappear as the NCB closes them down. In localities where the Coal Board is the chief or even the only big employer this spells disaster for the whole population.

The government’s attitude is that the NCB as a whole shall pay its way and cease to be dependent on subsidies, thus increasing the pressure to close down the loss-making pits. The Coal Board holds record stocks of coal it cannot sell. The NUM’s aim is that no pit shall be closed, however big its losses, until all the coal has been extracted. Also that there shall be no reduction in the total manpower employed, that no coal should be imported and that government policy shall encourage the use of coal against other sources of energy. They take the long-term view that there will come a time when coal production will have to be expanded again to meet demand.

The media have for the most part been hostile to the NUM's claims and actions, seizing on the refusal to take a national ballot as evidence that most miners are against the strike. This, they say, is undemocratic, but more of them insist that the NUM, also in the interest of democracy, should not settle the strike until after the workers have, by ballot, agreed.

The effect of the new techniques of mining on the industry and the NUM can be seen in the recently opened Selby coalfield. When it reaches full production in four years time it is expected to produce ten million tons a year, a twelfth of the Coal Board’s present total output, with just 4,000 men (Financial Times, 26 October 1983). But before Selby produced a single ton of coal over £1,000 million had been spent developing the mine and installing the costly equipment. What it means in economic terms is that more and more of the labour required to produce coal is that of workers not employed in the pits.

The mineworkers have been hit by the ceaseless change and development of industry under capitalism. In their search for profit, companies and nationalised industries take up inventions which promise cheaper production and increase profits, no matter what effect it has on the livelihood of the workers whose jobs disappear. Even if they get other work the change makes their old skills useless. In the past it was the handloom weavers driven into starvation by the application of steam power to new weaving machines; the coach drivers and farm horsemen whose jobs were destroyed by the railways and motor vehicles; the railway men in turn hit by motor transport and air transport; the morse telegraphist hit by machines and the development of telephones; and now the numerous office jobs that are becoming obsolete. Trade unions always do what they can to prevent or at least to delay the change but in the long run it is a losing battle. At present there are something under 200,000 miners, threatened by the loss of 20,000 jobs if loss-making pit closures planned for this year take place. At the beginning of this century they numbered over a million, reduced to 736,000 by the time the mines were nationalised in 1947 and to 490,000 in 1964. The NUM cannot put the clock back.

One of the tragedies of the NUM, as of other unions, is their long-held belief that nationalisation would solve their problems. The TUC began its claim for nationalisation of the mines before 1900 and the Labour Party adopted it soon afterwards. In 1919 the Miners Federation of Great Britain (as the NUM was then named) conducted a big campaign for nationalisation, got it approved by a ballot of its members and gave evidence to the Coal Commission set up to study the problems of the industry. The claim for nationalisation was combined with a claim for a 30 per cent increase of pay and a reduction of hours from 8 to 6 a day. The MFGB also argued that these claims could be met and still the price of coal could be reduced. They forgot all about capitalism. Within a couple of years selling prices for coal had fallen drastically, bankrupt companies were closing pits, and the union had to face demands for lower pay and longer hours, culminating in the General Strike of 1926 and the miners being forced back to work after a five months strike.

In the present dispute Arthur Scargill made a speech calling on the miners to unite against “the enemy, the Coal Board”. What is this Coal Board? It is the board of directors of the nationalised industry. It was set up under the Labour Government’s Nationalisation Act of 1947. The Miners Union had got what they had been campaigning for. Their MPs in the House of Commons voted for it, including its requirement that the industry should pay its way. There was nothing in the Act about maintaining the number of miners at 736,000. The Attlee Labour Government would not have dreamed of including such an impossible condition. What then did coal nationalisation bring for the miners? It was described by an earlier NUM Secretary Will Paynter in his book British Trade Unions and the Problem of Change:
  I remember the morning of January 1st, 1947—the first day of operations with nationalised mines — standing on the top of a tram of coal at one of the collieries I served as a Union Agent, making an enthusiastic speech about “the dawn of a new era", of the significance of the day being one where the "workers were moving forward to the control of their own destinies" and that we were at the beginning of the process where capitalism would be replaced by Socialism. This was obviously a naive and immature judgement of the change taking place, as we soon realised from experience. The relationship between management and workers remained the same; the union still had to fight hard to get improvements in wages and conditions and little in the daily lives of the men reflected the change that had taken place.
Paynter went on however, to say that there had been some improvements. Discussion between the management and the unions "became less acrimonious”, and it now became possible, as it had not been before nationalisation “for workmen to influence management policy”. In the present scene he would have to abandon that also. The miners have yet to learn that nationalisation is state capitalism and alters nothing in the class relationships of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Passing Show: Stolen Holiday (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Stolen holiday
How dare you take an extra day off work at Christmas! How DARE you!

Is this the way to beat our foreign competitors and make Britain great again? Well, is it? You ought to be ASHAMED of yourselves. Here we are in the middle of an economic crisis. Exports are down and costs are up. The trade gap is wider and the pound narrower. But what do you care? Absolutely nothing—and to prove it you took Monday December 28th as an extra holiday.

The Daily Mail of the following day threw a purple-faced screaming headline at its readers. Did you know that you had had a stolen holiday? That is what the Mail called it, because Wilson’s government refused to declare it a public one but many firms granted it just the same. And those awful dockworkers actually took it without so much as a by-your-leave. This, at a time when industry in rival countries was allegedly working normally. “ Not exactly the Dunkirk Spirit ” moaned the Mail.

It’s a moot point whether British workers are more or less diligent than those elsewhere, and not one which is really worth much either way. West German workers, for example, get more holidays than British and West Germany is one of Britain’s major European competitors. After all, one day’s work more or less is not likely to make such a tremendous difference to the fortunes of the British Capitalist class, but the Mail is probably concerned least the habit should become more popular and frequent, and aims to knock it hard on the head before this gets a chance to happen.

It’s nothing new for workers to be called lazy. My own memory is long enough to recall the insults of the pre-war labour exchanges with their puffed-up little clerks, themselves dead scared of putting a foot wrong and landing in the queue on the other side of the counter. During and since the war things have changed, superficially anyway, but we still have to endure goading with stick or carrot from press and politicians alike. Of course, the Mail and the Labour Government would like to see a return to the “Dunkirk Spirit"—its self-denial and if need be, heroism, in the task of keeping British capitalism on the map. Do you remember the days of Dunkirk, incidentally? The futile bloodshed and misery, the long tedious hours of war work and short rations?

Dunkirk and 1940 have a nostalgic ring for capitalist politicians. In those days there was always the promise (the carrot) of a better world after the war, of course, and twenty years of post war experience have tarnished the image a bit. But never mind, if only they could recapture some of the spirit, how much easier would life be for them. Costs would be kept down as foolish workers cheerfully sacrificed their wage increases. Profit margins would widen and perhaps more markets be captured. All very desirable for the owners of industry but hardly an exciting prospect for the working class. Now perhaps you can see why we are not very impressed by the promises or threats that are made from time to time to try and get a bit more out of us.

About the same time as the Mail was working itself into such a rage over our laziness, The Duke of Edinburgh and his son were off for a week or two of winter sports. In February he will visit Australia for a week. Princess Margaret and husband went over to Ireland for a bit of a holiday. Perhaps if we scanned the society columns we could find plenty of other rich people doing the same sort of thing.

Quite clearly the Royal Family and the rest do not take the Mail's strictures very seriously and in any case they were not aimed in their direction. For they belong to the ten per cent who do hot have to sell themselves for a wage packet to make a living, and who live a life of perpetual ease and comfort. The rest of us do all the work and have a pretty drab time of it. Just think about that before you get too conscience-stricken over your Christmas break.

The ultimate stunt
Let’s face it. There are some of us who have never been daring or mildly athletic. A jump from the top board of the local swimming baths would be a real trial of courage for many, including me. Even our childhood pranks can only be called slightly audacious, quite harmless in themselves and never very exciting.

To get to the point. This is perhaps the age of the stunt man, highly trained and physically fit, whose job it is to keep giving his audience bigger and better thrills. He is in great demand for the stand-in feats of riding, fighting and falling that enthrall you on the silver screen, and keep the big (and expensive) stars in one piece. He must have nerves of steel and a lion's courage, and early on he has to face the possibility of serious injury or sudden and violent death.

Like the rest of us, the stunt man lives in a highly commercial world, and although he may be comparatively well paid, he has to make his living under particularly difficult and trying conditions. And being a commercial world, it subjects him to its rules and regulations and the same sorts of pressures as other workers. In practical terms, this means that he must never really relax. His eyes must always be open for new feats (“gimmicks” would be a less generous term) to maintain his audiences’ interest and keep his labour power in demand. And just as in other fields demanding intense concentration and devotion, the job can become a pretty unhealthy obsession.

Did you read about the Hollywood stunt man Rod Pack in the Daily Mail of January 8th? His escapade made Blondin and his barrel look like child’s play. He had been doing a lot of skydiving—parachute jumping to you—which you might think dangerous enough. But not Mr. Pack. He heard a writer’s joking suggestion about trying a jump without a ’chute. “It became a obsession,’’ he confessed and with the not entirely disinterested assistance of some enterprising T.V. producer who offered him a contract, he managed to pull it off. He is still alive to tell the tale.

Granting Mr. Pack’s courage, what has been the result of his feat? A lot of worry for his wife and friends, a rake-off for the T.V. producer and some exclusive pictures for the Daily Mail. “Just for the hell of it, just to be first” was his reason, and as far as he was concerned, that was the end of it. But we can be sure there will be others to follow him, risking life and limb in perhaps even more foolhardy and dangerous stunts to satisfy the demands of the entertainments market. It will prove precious little and solve no outstanding social problems. A tragic waste, really, of human skill and strength, but then that is a fitting description of capitalism as a whole.
Eddie Critchfield

Socialist pioneer (2000)

Book Review from the March 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Essential William Morris by Iain Zaczek, Dempsey Parr, London & Bath, 1999.

This is a very large, coffee-table book, beautifully illustrated with 150 of Morris's drawings, illustrations tiles, wallpaper designs, pained panels, tapestries and much else. All the illustrations are carefully described by the author.

There is also an introductory biography of Morris's life by Claire O'Mahony, in which she traces the origins of his family, his early childhood at Woodford Hall in Epping Forest, his schooling at Marlborough College and, later, Exeter College, Oxford, where is discovered "the idyllic medieval city, the circle of idealistic undergraduates and the writings of the Tractarians, Ruskin and Carlyle". Later, after leaving Oxford, Morris sought out the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

O'Mahony states that "the medievalism of Morris's youth provided a consistent thread to his political morality of later years, which was so firmly rooted in the Socialism theorised by Karl Marx". She mentions that, in 1871 and 1873, Morris visited Iceland where "he experienced a reawakening of his social conscience when he witnessed the simple dignity of classless life amidst the unrelenting hardships experienced in Reykjavik". She very briefly mentions Morris's membership of, first, the Liberal League; his dissatisfaction with Liberalism, his joining the Social Democratic Federation of Henry Mayers Hyndman in 1883, and his founding with 10 others of the Socialist League, as "one of the strongest advocates for a socialist revolution in 1880s' Britain". His friendships with "the Russian émigré anarchist Prince Kropotkin and Friedrich Engels", are noted.

O'Mahony says that "Morris's socialism is most lucid in his writings on art and society". Morris was one of the few privileged members of the capitalist class in Victorian England who fully embraced, and developed, socialist ideas. And despite the coffee-table style of this book, this is stressed in the introduction. Whether readers have coffee tables or not, The Essential William Morris is worth reading, and keeping for the superb illustrations.
Peter E. Newell