Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Moral Factor? (1996)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

At last we know. After all the time and cerebral energy expended on looking for the reasons for problems like poverty, homelessness, and crime it has become clear. As we might have expected, the politicians had the answer. At last they have told us. We are suffering from a moral deficit which undermines all the efforts by masses of people of goodwill to build a secure and prosperous society. We should all be grateful about this because it means that morality is likely to be an issue at the general election, which cannot now be long delayed. In the excitement of the hustings we shall be able to debate this desperately important issue and then, it is to be hoped—most of all, by the politicians—we shall give our leaders an overwhelming mandate to lay the foundations for a new morality.

Of course there will be some draw backs in this preoccupation with moral issues. One is that it will focus attention on individuals or groups of people who are open to be labelled as immoral. People like single mothers, who are a perpetual obsession of one prominent Cabinet minister who thinks the women deliberately arranged their pregnancy so that they would have a case for living on one of those nice estates where other immoral people sell drugs, burgle houses, steal cars . . .  People like those who fail to buy a TV licence so that they can legally watch morally sustaining shows like Blind Date. People who try to supplement their Income Support at the local Sainsbury, where Good Food Costs Nothing if you shoplift it.

And while attention is focused in these ways the real issues are overlooked. This is probably very reassuring to the politicians because it saves them from constructing those long, boring election manifestos in which they promise to eliminate all sorts of problems. Now they can narrow it down to one simple issue. It is rather like when they told us the most important thing was to win the war. Except that now the war is against immorality.

So why is there this moral deficit? We may well ask. Why, for example, is society supposed to be in such an uproar when the present government have had 17 years in which to control it? According to Norman Tebbit, the Thatcher government turned Britain from ". . . the sick country of Europe into one of the most successful and respected in the world . . . Our policies have become the standard against which others are measured" (Upwardly Mobile). But now we are told that there is something basically wrong with this successful and respected country. We are told this by Tebbit’s successors in the Tory government and by Labour leaders like Jack Straw and Tony Blair, who obviously fear the Tories have a vote-winning bandwagon, which they are desperate to clamber onto, in the morality issue.

Well the easiest resolution to this is to blame the parents and the teachers, who are now being criticised for not wearing suits (the male teachers) and not wearing shirts (the females). Parents are being condemned for an alleged preoccupation with the business of survival which cripples their influence over their children, who run riot as a consequence. If only they were all like our politicians, who are always so appropriately dressed and who never deceive or betray us.

There is, however, a question to be answered here. If the present generation of teachers and parents are so deficient in their morality that they have little of it to impart to the children, how did they get to be like that? Were their teachers and parents lacking? And if they were, what responsibility for this rests with those who taught and raised them? It does not take long for this line of questioning to bring us back to the times when, it is implied, society operated on a strong moral basis—when everyone knew their place and mostly asked for nothing more than a life in the slums and a death in the workhouse.

If this kind of question begins to make the whole issue of morality look distinctly dodgy, it can be because it is hardly the time for the Tories to produce it in the hope of winning votes. It is not necessary to go into the wearisome catalogue of sleaze for which this government is notable to conclude that we are ruled by one of the most disastrously exposed bunch of wanglers in recent history. Of course much of the exposure has been possible because of the inept way in which the sleaze has been operated—at times almost as bad as the bank robbers leaving their fingerprints on the safe door. Equally inept have been the attempts to protect the sleaze merchants which have so often had the effect of aggravating the government’s problem—and this does not say much for the supposed skill of those people who claim they can effectively run this social system.

The cover-ups and excuses are designed to protect the entire institution of governmentand political leadership. If there are too many examples of MPs and ministers breaking the rules to line their own pockets there may be a reluctance by the voters to trust them. In fact, voters trust their leaders in face of a mass of evidence which should dissuade them. For example, the recent release of government documents relatingto 1956 has finally confirmed what was obvious—but always vehemently denied—about the Suez war in that year. It has always been clear that the invasion of Egypt was justified by a series of official lies. At the time the excuse for the landings was the separation of the Israeli and Egyptian armies when in fact the Israeli attack was planned in conjunction with the British and French governments, to give them an excuse for landing in Egypt. At the time the House of Commons was assured by the British Prime Minister—elegant, handsome Old Etonian Anthony Eden—that no such collusion had taken place. Eden lied, which no MP, let alone an Old Etonian, let alone a Prime Minister, is supposed to do. So they fitted him up with a peerage and a nice house in the West Indies.

And what are we to say about the morality of the present bunch of political leaders? About John Major’s pose as the nice guy? About Tony Blair’s waffle about Britain’s future under a Labour government? About the morality of the whole, persistent deception that these people can organise capitalism so that it can exist without poverty, homelessness, crime. About the morality of them turning when they are exposed, on vulnerable groups in the hope of winning a few votes from the more bewildered and despairing among the electorate?

50 Years Ago: The Slippery Slopes of Labourism (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the home front the Labour Party is in wholesale—though, as yet, not fully recognised—retreat. As long as the Labour Party has been in existence its most prominent propagandists have given lip-service to the Socialist condemnation of the capitalist system for its “profit motive”. Now a changed line has been announced without any attempt being made first to get it endorsed by the members of the Labour Party. This line was defined by Mr. Herbert Morrison in a speech at Birmingham, reported in the Daily Herald (October 28th, 1946). “There is no need,” he said, “to abolish the profit motive,” all that is required is to rid it of abuses. Three days later the Daily Herald told its readers that one of the reasons for the Labour Government’s drive for increased production and the most economical use of labour was that these are essential “to preserve the real value of both wages and profits” (Daily Herald, 31/10/46). Many Labour voters will be astonished to learn that one of the objects of their Party is to “preserve the real value of profits.” Some may ask themselves, too, how the present policy of discouraging wage increased fits in with the pre-election promises and with the increase of M.P.s’ salaries from £600 to £ 1,000 a year in April last.
(From editorial in Socialist Standard, December 1946)

Who'll mourn the Emperor?

Bokassa's coronation in 1976.
From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1920, France took full control of their tiny African colony Ubangi-Shari (later the Central African Republic) and immediately leased 50 percent of it to 17 French companies, giving them freedom to exploit the indigenous population in whatever manner they saw fit.

This exploitation would take the form of forced labour, torture and hostage-taking in an attempt to force the population to collect rubber vine.

It was at the hands of the guards of one of these French companies that a certain Chief Mindogen was flogged to death for failing to provide sufficient rubber vine collectors.

Against this backdrop, Jean Bedal Bokassa, son of Chief Mindogen grew up with a superstitious fascination for French power and an obsession with French history, particularly the Napoleonic era, an obsession which led him to enlist in the French army and which played some part in his sycophantic rise to the rank of lieutenant during French campaigns of the 40s and 50s.

On leaving the army, Bokassa quickly found a position in David Dacko’s corrupt and chaotic government as Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defence.

At this time the French were a bit uneasy about Dacko’s corrupt government, fearing for their businesses and strategic interests should a potential "Marxist"-led uprising occur and though the country was officially independent—it had been since I960—France still retained the right to interfere at their leisure.

They had in fact been planning a coup when Bokassa, catching a whiff of their intentions, out-manoeuvred them and took control of the capital with forces loyal to himself.

Although the French did not at first take too kindly to this wagon-jumping, Bokassa seemed such a pleasant enough old Francophile that it seemed a shame to oppose him, and besides, he was anything but a "communist”. So they sat back and left the affairs of the Central African Republic to the new president, confident he could fare no worse than Dacko.

However, as Ian Schott points out; "There was little to distinguish Bokassa from any other confused, violent and corrupt post-colonial regime. It was run on the simple maxim ‘to the victors—the spoils”' (World Famous Dictators, 1992, P-78).

Anything resembling democracy was trampled upon and nepotism was rampant. Those loyal to Bokassa were rewarded with promotion and huge salaries and those who upset him met an early death.

Still France backed him, to the tune of $20 million per year. Most of this, though, was bi-lateral aid which tended to increase France’s interests in the country. It was followed by the donation of French paratroopers to Bokassa’s army.

From then on the country’s budget was treated by Bokassa as his own personal bank account. He privatised state assets, had shares in every national business including the diamond industry and secured a total monopoly on foreign trade. None complained. The entire civil service had either been bribed or were too afraid to speak out.

Twelve years later the country was almost as bankrupt as it had been on 31 December 1965 when Bokassa assumed the tide of President of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Information and Ministry for Justice.

In December 1976, Bokassa decided it was time his 2.5 million population needed an Emperor—himself. Almost 35 percent of the state’s $70 million budget was subverted to the ensuing Napoleonic-style coronation.

No expense was spared. Bokassa donned a velvet ankle-length sword. He trailed a 30-foot-long crimson velvet, gold-embroidered and ermine-trimmed mantle and was carried to his gold-trimmed throne, backed by a huge golden eagle with outstretched wings, in a gilded coach drawn by eight white Normandy horses.

Although the event was frowned upon by the British and the US, invited representatives of both countries returning their golden invitation cards—the US so infuriated they cut off aid—the French expressed their approval by donating $2.5 million to the event, in order that the 2,500 imbecilic international guests could be ferried about in a huge fleet of limousines escorted by 200 BMW motorbikes.

The world had apparently given Bokassa the legitimacy he had sought and he revelled in it. From this point his extravagance was now only to be matched by his inhumanity.

When he discovered an attempted break-in at his palace, he drove in a fury to the local prison and personally beat three innocent victims to death. When schoolchildren protested at the compulsory wearing of expensive uniforms made at a factory owned by himself, he sent the troops in who promptly massacred between 150 and 200 of them. And when teachers and students distributed leaflets condemning his personal wealth, his "Imperial Guard" rounded up hundreds who were later beaten to death. Bokassa participating fully at Ngaragbi prison—all this in the International Year of the Child!

These and other such episodes finally began to embarrass the French government As they pondered their predicament they set up a five-nation African Mission of Inquiry to investigate the many charges against Bokassa. including cannibalism, whilst at the same time desperately seeking a means of ousting him before he could be found guilty and world opinion turned against a French government that has sponsored him.

The inquiry found him guilty and. a month later, sanctions already beginning to bite, Bokassa went cap-in-hand to Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi for help.

In his absence the French launched "Operation Barracuda", a bloodless coup, brought David Dacko out of retirement and installed him in Bokassa's palace as president.

Gadaffi soon got fed up with Bokassa, just as he had with Amin years earlier. Homeless, friendless, Bokassa roamed about until settling down on the Ivory Coast to sell tropical fish. After an even more depressing spell in France, Bokassa returned to his homeland, where his death penalty had been passed in his absence. This was commuted to life imprisonment

Six years later Bokassa was released and immediately applied for the post of president. Amazingly his offer was turned down!

On 3 November 1996 Bokassa died at the age of 75, in a country where the average life expectancy is 48. There is little doubt that there will be few more delighted to see him go than the French government As long as he lived he served as a poignant reminder of France’s imperial excesses.

Bokassa’s type still exist however, in Libya, Zaire and Nigeria and a host of other African countries where the colonial experiment still reverberates down the years—stark reminders of the true nature of capitalism and how the seemingly benevolent gift of "independence" blossoms all too often into abject tyranny and terror when ill-educated dictators try to run a country in a manner in which their colonial forbears also failed. 
John Bissett

Whiff of Gold (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We publish below, without comment, a translation of an article that appeared in the Belgian paper "Le Soir"on 14 November under the heading "THE GREAT LAKES WAR HAS A WHIFF OF GOLD ABOUT IT”.
One would have to be naive to believe that the motivation behind the interest currently being shown by the major powers in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is purely humanitarian. In reality, Rwanda and Burundi are two countries which, although tiny, are of strategic geopolitical importance, located as they are on the borders of the immense state of Zaire, whose eastern provinces constitute an almost uncapped store of strategic mineral wealth.

Rwanda and Burundi are two pivotal states on the fringes of the French-speaking zone of influence which stretches from Western to Central Africa, incorporating the Zaire of President Mobutu, who, since the end of the Cold War, has skilfully exploited the French language link. Although in cultural and linguistic terms Rwanda and Burundi may be classed among the French-speaking countries, economically speaking they belong to Eastern Africa,all their exports and imports passing through the Indian Ocean ports of Tanzania and Kenya.

For several years, the centre of gravity of Kivu province has also been shifting. Most of the local companies have post office boxes in Kigali and Bujumbura, and their business operations are conducted via Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean ports. If Kivu could elude Kinshasa's control, other eastern provinces might follow suit. In Shaba too, rebel movements are preparing to go into action.

At a recent press conference, the Zairean Minister of the Interior, Kamanda wa Kamanda, relayed soon afterwards by his colleague responsible for the Mines, stressed that "the war In Kivu has a whiff of gold about it".

And it is not just gold, although the gold mines of Southern Kivu have given the rebel movements quasi-autarky up to now. Several opposition movements had bases in the Fizi Baraka region and even signed "non-aggression pacts" with the military, each of them exploiting the region’s gold for their own account, and exporting it via trading posts in Burundi.

Apart from gold, Kivu has other mineral riches. Particularly substantial methane gas deposits lie beneath the bed of Lake Kivu, and American companies might be interested in working them. Even back in colonial times, strategic minerals were discovered in the region. Southern Kivu is rich in silver, beryl, bismuth, iron, cassiterite, tantalum and tungsten. Northern Kivu, in addition to gold, cassiterite, iron, diamonds, platinum and tantalum, also has large deposits of niobium, already worked by a German company.

Kivu’s resources are particularly important, since niobium and columbotantalite are materials used in the high-tech aeronautical and computer industries, and will be ever more highly prized in the future. Certain sources even maintain that oil has been discovered under Lake Kivu, but because of the distances involved, it is apparently unprofitable to exploit it at the present time. It must in any event be assumed that such riches, which will one day be of strategic importance, cannot be a matter of complete indifference to the industrialised countries (Canada included) currently waiting in the wings to bring humanitarian aid to this disaster zone.
(translated by MD).

Which Way To Organise? (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Socialists aim at common ownership and democratic control of the world and its resources and the consequent abolition of class society. We also recognise that until this is achieved we have to organise ourselves for class struggle along the most militant and democratic lines. Mainstream trade unions increasingly fit neither of these descriptions. So is it time for a new beginning?
The leaders of the trade union movement are devoid of a class understanding of society, so lacking ideas of how to get out of their present rut that they see no alternative, indeed no other policy, than supporting the return of a Labour government.

Blair and Blunkett have left no doubts about their attitude to organised labour: the anti-union legislation must be continued. If elected a Labour government will place yet further curbs on strike action, especially in the public sector. Binding arbitration or a system whereby unions will have to re-ballot their members every time an employer makes what it terms as an improved offer will be introduced.

There was also a rumour that if a Labour government was to be faced with an outbreak of strikes in the public sector, this might result in the party balloting its members on the question of ending the link with the unions. This so-called threat, which is more like the best thing the Labour Party would have ever done for the working class, was later denied by senior party officials.

The direction mainstream trade unions are heading is very similar to that of New Labour, with an emphasis on a social partnership between unions and employers. In general the reaction of the union leaders to Blair and Blunkett’s proposals was, to say the least, muted. Official trade unionism is like a toothless tiger that when attacked has no choice but to cower in a corner.

A class issue
The need to engage in collective organisation emerges in a society which is divided into two classes, a minority class who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution and a majority class who have to sell their abilities to work for a wage or salary in order to live. On an individual basis the relationship between employer and employee is one of gross inequality to that to defend themselves against the inevitable encroachments of capital, workers have to organise collectively.

This need has nothing to do with rights, but has everything to do with economic necessity, a vital weapon for workers in the class struggle. Collective organisation and immunities from prosecution in trade disputes were conceded by the state through years of working-class struggle. In recent years these immunities only remain if workers and their organisations abide by a whole set of restraints in organising their disputes with employers.

Unions which were never exactly revolutionary organisations, are now beginning to lack any trace of being class-based organisations. The question must seriously be asked: are unions, who subscribe to the so-called “New Unionism” of the late 1990s, adequate tools for workers to rely on in their struggle with the bosses’ class?

Whether by deliberate design or not, many unions seem to have abandoned sections of the working class who are suffering from the worst aspects of modern capitalism. Many workers are employed on part-time contracts or limited to temporary or casual employment and find the comparatively high subs unions ask difficult to afford.

The unions now seem totally resigned to working within the reactionary industrial relations legislation which has developed, particularly during the last seventeen years. This acceptance makes them less effective organisations for workers in their struggles with employers.

The Liverpool dockers dispute has shown that to pursue a dispute via solidarity, and in this case international solidarity, means acting outside the channels of official unionism. After a weekend of activity in late September, it seems the TGWU threatened to end what little support it was providing to the dockers on the grounds that they had been associating with “anarchists”.

If workers are having to spend as much time fighting the union bureaucracy as they are their employers, then many may start, indeed, surely will start, to think about the need to form or join industrial organisations which are controlled by the membership and not paid officials.

Democratic struggle
What socialists support is sound collective industrial working-class organisation not particular institutions of trade unions. We have always stressed the need for workers to control their own disputes, to democratically decide when to take action, what that action should be and at what stage their dispute has been satisfactorily settled or is no longer worth pursuing.

It is workers themselves and not officials divorced from the workplace who should decide whether to make agreements with employers and what such agreements should be. Collective industrial organisation also needs to reach out beyond the workplace to include community involvement. The need for such organisation was evident in the 1984-5 miners strike and in the current Liverpool dockers dispute. Is this possible in bureaucratic-dominated unions?

Even in the defensive struggle to defend ourselves within the capitalist system, let alone an offensive one to help end it, the business-type unions which dominate in Britain at the moment offer little more than employment insurance and personal services. They are losing, or have already lost, their capacity for workers to use them as organisations of self-defence and are seemingly too bureaucratic to change. For groups of workers who have retained good militant anti-official unionism, it may be possible to build something within their existing organisations. For those who lack this base, alternative forms of industrial collective organisation may need to be built.
Ray Carr

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

These Foolish Things: Progress (1996)

The Scavenger column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard


In 1886, the bottom 10 percent of manual workers earned 69 percent of the median manual wage, while the top 10 percent earned 143 percent. Despite the huge shifts in manufacturing over the next 90 years—the growth of new' industries, the rise of trade unionism, the impact of two world wars—the relative position remained virtually unchanged. But since 1977 the relative position has worsened for the bottom 10 percent of manual workers who now get just 61 percent of the median against 161 percent for the top 10 percent. 
Guardian, 10 October.

Oh God!

The Reverend Stanley Mast, of the LaGrave Avenue Christian Reform Church, offered an invocation that should become the official fund-raising prayer of both parties. “O God. as we gather together tonight to honour important people in our country', we pause to acknowledge that you are master of the universe and Lord of the nations.” the Reverend prayed. “As we focus on finances and politics, we give you thanks for the gift of wealth, we thank you for the privilege of living in America, this great land of freedom, a land that not only allows but even encourages the individual pursuit of wealth. We thank you, O God, for the success so many of us have had in that pursuit. . . . Bless our guests of honour. May their generosity and faith inspire us all. Bless these upcoming elections. May the right people be elected. And God bless America. Amen.” 
New Yorker, 5 August.

The City Editor says . . .

Much more hot air, and some acute cases of handwringing have been prompted by a United Nations report that the combined wealth of the world’s 358 billionaires equals the combined incomes of the world population’s poorest 45 percent, or 2.3 billion. Leaving aside the mismatch between wealth and income in that comparison, so what? It is not ownership that is important so much as what the owners or controllers of wealth do with it.
William Kay, Financial Mail on Sunday, 28 July.

Twice kicked

A Midland care assistant was unceremoniously sacked by health chiefs after being injured in an attack at work, it was claimed today. Jenny Jennings, of Solihull Lodge, said she was so badly kicked in the knee by a resident at a Chemsley Wood home that she was unable to do her job . . . Mrs Jennings said it was the second time a member of staff had been badly injured by the resident but the trust management had not acted to prevent it happening again . . .  Solihull’s Healthcare’s director of personnel Mr Nick Gillard said the resident’s care would have been addressed following the first attack. “Having gone through channels and followed policy to the letter Mrs Jennings’ employment was terminated due to ill health,” he said. 
Evening Mail, 16 August.

Now you see it . . .

The Saudi government has tightened its controls on satellite TV, forcing viewers to dismantle dishes and subscribe to its own TV network. On offer is a mixture of Arabic and international programming selected by the Ministry of Information. A five-minute delay has been introduced on foreign channels so that “unsuitable material” can be censored.
           What Satellite TV, 13 October.

      The Scavenger

Miracle in Mornington Crescent (1996)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The number 24 bus is not known in the records of classical legend as the site of miracles. Nobody on the number 24 bus route has ever turned water into wine (although later at night cans of4X have been seen to turn to urine) and rarely have moving statues been seen occupying the seats reserved for the elderly and pregnant women. No, it was certainly no miracle which happened last Monday morning; teams of Vatican investigators will not be treading their way from Rome to Mornington Crescent (for it was there that it happened) to record the mysterious happening. There are no miracles; it was no miracle. It was simply a slightly extraordinary event. When I say extraordinary I am not alluding to those strange and semi-credible happenings so frequently found within the dull, unwanted pages of Readers Digest (publisher: the CIA). There you will find stories of women who didn’t know they were pregnant and then one day, while enjoying a casual game of beach volleyball, gave birth to triplets, each of a different ethnic background. Or men who fell from fifty-storey skyscrapers on to a passing bus in which was sitting their long-lost twin. Extraordinary! Incredible is the concept which springs to mind. Presumably the CIA use Readers Digest as a sort of testing ground for human gullibility. The theory must be that if they believe it in the Readers Digest, why not try it out on the suckers in the rigged Latin American election? So let’s be clear about this: we are talking neither of miracles nor stories of the strange and mysterious. All that happened on the 24 bus last Monday was a mildly noteworthy set of circumstances.

I had just returned from a weekend speaking trip to Glasgow. The exhaustion of overnight travel and the joyful memory of a fraternal visit fought in my mind as I made my weary way to the job. Robotically, from shower to letterbox, right shoe on and then left shoe, up the street to the bus stop, the drill was performed and the miserable queue of job-seekers who had sought, found and were fed up was waiting as usual. The bus came. And then . . . 

It began when a woman in the bus queue, carrying a particularly bulky suitcase, stooped to lift it only to find herself pounced upon by two men who insisted upon helping her carry it on. That was kind. Then came a boy who discovered that he was ten pence short on the fare. The woman with the case took out ten pence and paid it. “I’ll pay you back, missus,’’ said the boy. “Pay me when you win the lottery, love,” she replied. The boy’s fumbling for his coin had made the bus a few seconds late and, as it moved off, along ran a man clearly anxious to get on. The driver stopped, opened the doors and smiled at the latecomer. “That was decent of you,” said the man. “You’re more than welcome, mate,’’ said the driver. “I hope you’d do the same for me.” It was at that point that the blind man asked the best stop to get off for University College Hospital. A debate occurred. Passengers vied with one another to be more helpful. “Look,” said the girl in a leather jacket who had recently been reading the Sun, “don’t you worry about the best stop; I work only a few streets from there and it won’t take me five minutes to walk you to exactly where you want to go.” The passengers approved. The woman with the suitcase passed around wine gums. We only took as many as we needed. (I took none.) A couple of Dutch tourists got on and discovered they were going the wrong way for Camden market. But an old man suggested another market where things were cheaper and you could get musical Christmas cards at half price. Whatever musical Christmas cards are, the Dutch couple seemed happy and were soon sharing in the wine gums. The boy offered to show them round his school (they were teachers it turned out) and the blind man told a story of how he had once taken the day off school to go to a Beatles concert. At which point the bus driver asked if anyone would mind if he played an old Beatles tape which his friend had made for him. We all assented. Quite a few sang. It felt like a trip to the seaside. It felt like every day and every journey and every destination should be like this, or, at least, less like it usually is. It felt as if we were a convoy of travelling pups having a lick at our own humanity. It tasted good.

So no miracle occurred. It was probably hardly worthy of note. But it happened and probably it happens much more often than is recorded. People were decent. For the few minutes of that journey on that bus we all overcame the tremendous temptations of this system to push and shove and trample upon one another and act inhumanly, all of which happens daily in the name of “healthy competition”. And then that competitive indecency is paraded before us in the name of “human nature”, as if we are not pups but rotweilers. And so humans are taught to hate themselves—to put muzzles upon themselves lest they bite. But in truth we are happier co-operating than biting or fighting. It was co-operation which allowed the species to survive, after all. And alienated as the profit system makes us from the reality of our species, there are moments which are not miracles—moments when mothers feed their babies and children play in the park and the elderly are crossed over busy roads and one person simply smiles at another without a sinister motive—when humanity triumphs over capitalism. These are not miracles or incredible events. They are merely spectres of what could be if we were to live as we might live.
Steve Coleman

Letters: Just dealing with one of the effects (1996)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just dealing with one of the effects

Dear Editors,

In his recent article ("Class, Micropolitics and Solidarity", October Socialist Standard), Jonathan Clay talks about the action in which four of us disarmed a Hawk attack plane destined for Indonesia. He states that this action was "inspired, but ultimately doomed”, and says that no doubt we realised this all along. I object most strongly to what was one of the most successful anti-arms trade actions ever being dismissed as "doomed”. Nine months after we disarmed that particular plane, it is still in England. It was due to be sent months ago to a counter-insurgency squadron in Indonesia from where it would have been used against civilians in East Timor. The many East Timorese who have written to thank us for our action certainly don’t think it was doomed.

Jonathan Clay goes on to say that our action was undertaken to publicise the situation in East Timor, and that the jury ignored the law in acquitting us. Had he taken the slighted trouble to get his facts right, he would have found that we had a defence in law—that of using reasonable force to prevent crime, a defence under the Criminal Law Act 1967. We did not undertake this action as a publicity stunt—who would risk ten years in prison for publicity? The judge allowed our defence to be put to the jury, who acquitted us on that basis. To suggest that the jury ignored the law is insulting to them and does nothing to help people understand that this kind of action can in certain circumstances be legal. I wonder what actions Jonathan Clay has undertaken to uphold justice and international law—or is he just an armchair activist whose only contribution is to make ill-founded criticisms of other people’s actions?
Seeds of Hope—East Timor Ploughshares

When we said that your action was “ultimately doomed" we meant that it would fail to prevent the Indonesian military getting their attack planes in the end (that's what ultimately means). The most that you could achieve was what you did achieve—to delay delivery and to gain publicity for your cause. We assumed you realised this but if you really expected to stop delivery altogether we misjudged your level of understanding of existing political realities.

Are you holier than us? Probably, but then we don’t share your belief in the efficacy of the law to improve things. In fact, for us, the law is a reflection of private property and profit-motivated society and exists to uphold it. But it is precisely this society—capitalism—with its built-in competitive struggle between states for sources of raw materials, investment outlets, trade routes, markets and strategic positions to control these, which is the root cause of situations like that in East Timor.

Such situations will go on occurring, in some part of the world, as long as capitalism continues to exist. What are you doing to speed the end of capitalism? Or are you just a single-issue activist concentrating exclusively on trying to deal with just one of its many nefarious effects?

A good thing

Dear Editors,

Jonathan Clay’s article. "Class, Micropolitics and Solidarity" in October’s Socialist Standard was a very welcome and timely one in that it warned against taking a dismissive attitude to defensive class struggle.

Only working class solidarity can get rid of capitalism and achieve world socialism and any expression of such solidarity is a good thing, whether at work, in communities fighting to protect their local environment, or in the various getting-togethers to resist the bosses' latest laws. At least it shows that people will never roll over and die, as the ruling class so dearly wants us to. Obviously none of the above will do much at present to bring about a free society because the required mass class consciousness isn’t there.

However, now more than ever, people involved in defensive struggles are likely to approach the only conclusion there is: that the money system as a whole is the problem. Attacks on the working class are getting more savage by the day, every way of running capitalism has been tried and discredited and there is widespread rejection of the parties of capitalism (including the lefties and their sorry antics). Life itself is an education and the Socialist Party exists to spread the socialist case as widely as possible.

Socialists are all for working class solidarity, but are "under no illusions" that it is mass solidarity for the abolition of capitalism that is so desperately needed.
Ben Malcolm, 

Merciless capitalist class (1996)

Edward Bond
Theatre Review from the December issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Company of Men by Edward Bond 
The Pit Theatre
, Barbican.

The playwright Edward Bond has a formidable reputation as a critic of capitalism. But is it a deserved reputation?

In his latest play In the Company of Men he re-visits some familiar territory. He is concerned to document the merciless competitiveness which is at the heart of big business; to examine the way in which the search for economic power, with its seemingly inevitable deviousness and deception, bullying and lying, spills over into the rest of life and corrupts human relationships; and to catalogue the connections between competitiveness, power, bullying and physical violence.

Adopted son, Leonard, tries to displace his bullying father as the head of an arms manufacturing company. He is aided and abetted in his endeavours by the company secretary, only to discover that he has put himself in the thrall of a rival entrepreneur, Hammond, who is in cahoots with the devious company secretary. What should Leonard do? Hand over the controlling interest in his father's business, or kill his bullying father before Hammond can gain advantage?

Bond is very good when characterising the inanity, the madness and the malevolence which lie at the heart of corporate capitalism, and the hypocrisies which its apologists mouth in its, and their, defence. Hammond is intent on amalgamations which will allow him to sell not butter or guns to the nations of the world, but rather both butter and guns. He says he trusts no none "not even myself'. And Leonard's father rejects the charge that he is ambitious, claiming only to be "a leader wanting to serve".

In the Company of Men is a wordy, verbose play. On its first night it ran for nearly four hours, but when I saw the production some days later it had been trimmed to a mere three-and-a-half hours. Probably Bond shouldn't have directed the play himself. A more objective director would, even now, likely demand more cuts. The play's dense language is often compelling but occasionally it gets in the way of meaning and impact; no matter that it is delivered with conviction and gusto by a talented cast.

A friend remarked as we came out of the theatre that "somewhere in all that there is a play waiting to get out." I know what he meant, but l don't think it’s just a matter of deletions. revisions and amendments. Bond's insights may have been compelling but, to my ears, they were incomplete. Certainly capitalists behave like monsters but Bond never asks why. Is it a matter of choice or does entrepreneurial activity attract those who, for whatever reasons, are inclined to be thrustful, competitive and merciless? Or is it, as the socialist would claim, principally that the mechanics of capitalism demand ruthless, merciless competition because that’s the way the system works?

Bond’s account of the mordant, merciless world of corporate capitalism is powerful and revealing, and it certainly makes for an enjoyable evening. But finally it is an unsatisfactory account, because it is incomplete. Bond describes the behaviour of those caught up in capitalist enterprises very well, but he doesn't help us to understand why his characters behave in the way that they do. And descriptions of the world are not enough. If we want to change things we must engage in more analytical activity. We need to know not only "how" the economic system works and the way it brutalises its combatants, but also "why" it works in the way that it does. In the Company of Men doesn’t really consider such matters.
Michael Gill

Sunday, December 8, 2019

News in Review: Rhodesian colour bar (1960)

The News in Review column from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rhodesian colour bar
The business interests of the Rhodesian Federation are making slow but steady progress in their attempt to build up a system free from colour bars, and from the inconveniences these cause in trade and industry. In the Northern Rhodesian copper mines, for example, the owners have long wanted to be able to call on the great reserve of local African labour for all the jobs in the mines, instead of having many of them reserved for Europeans. The resistance of the white miners to these proposals led to a long strike by the Europeans in 1958. But after a year's negotiation between the European miners’ union and six of the mining companies, the latter have at last persuaded the whites to allow at least all the unskilled jobs to be done by Africans. It is significant that the African mineworkers' union, although it gave a modified welcome to the agreement, took no part in the discussions: it was the owners who argued the case against the colour bar.

Monckton and Tredgold
In the political field, the. industrial interests are also forging ahead in their struggle with the planters' government under Sir Roy Welensky and Sir Edgar Whitehead. The recent Monckton commission recommended that secession from the Federation should be permitted, even though Welensky only allowed the commission into Rhodesia on Macmillan's promise that they would not be allowed to judge on the question of secession. But clearly the capitalists of Rhodesia feel that they could count on more co-operation from African governments in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia than from the present settlers' government which controls the whole Federation. As they feel their position crumbling, the planters try to bolster their control of the government. Sir Edgar Whitehead has brought in a Law and Order Bill to give himself sweeping powers “to maintain order” (i.e., to silence any opposition which gets out of hand). This has led to the resignation of Sir Robert Tredgold, the Chief Justice of the Federation, in protest. He is to lead a new movement to get rid of Sir Edgar Whitehead. All of which emphasizes the fact that those who support capitalism in Rhodesia are more and more turning on the pressure to over throw the former ruling class, the planters.

Labour controversy
When one considers the issues involved in the recent Labour Party controversy one can only wonder just what all the fuss was about. We were told that if Mr. Gaitskell continues as leader of the Labour Party it may mean the disintegration of that party. Mr. Wilson on the other hand was said to have been of a more conciliatory nature and because of this was more likely to have kept the party united. We are not concerned here with the personalities of the individuals involved except to point out that on the question of what started the controversy, namely, conference decisions on Defence, they differed only in their respective views on how best to maintain some appearance of solidarity in the labour movement. It had been said that should the issue have been settled either way it could possibly have meant the end of the Labour Party “as an effective opposition.” Socialists would have had no such illusions. Since the Labour Party’s inception the S.P.G.B. have been pointing out that the Party in question is not so much a party of opposition as an alternative government, having an occasional term of office in an endeavour to solve the same inevitable capitalist problems which the outgoing party have failed to solve. Socialists would be the last to shed any tears should the present controversy bring about the disintegration of the Labour Party.

Breakdown ?
Unhappy days seem to be here again in the car industry, as heavy redundancies develop in France, Germany and Great Britain. The Canadians have a similar problem and have responded by persuading their government to impose stricter conditions of dumping duty on car imports.

Unemployment is an old working class problem; it is especially ironical that it should reappear in an industry whose product has been the sacred symbol of post-war “prosperity.”

Capitalism, with or without full employment, is a system in which cars, like other commodities, are made only if they can be sold. This—not the policies of parsimonious governments or perfidious car companies—is the root of the troubles in the car industry.

Many workers, with a hire-purchase heap shrouded in balloon fabric at the kerbside, thought that what they called prosperity would last for ever. For these, the redundancies must come as a shock.

Sadly, there is no reason to suppose that unemployed workers are more receptive to the lessons of capitalist society than those who are working. Boom or slump, capitalism is an insecure system and must remain so.

“News Chronicle”
The News Chronicle stuck to what it chose to call its liberal principles like a prim old Auntie watching her hemline. Whatever sordid facts capitalism produced for it to comment upon, the Chronicle’s attitude was always impeccably virtuous.

An innocent could have been forgiven for believing that the newspaper existed only to expound lofty morality.

But the end of the News Chronicle and The Star had nothing to do with principles. Simply, they sold out because they could not balance their accounts: their revenue from sales, advertising and so on did not cover their costs of wages, materials and the like.

The people who sink money into newspapers like to receive a return on their investment, which means that the Chronicle, like any other commodity, was produced for profitable sale. They stopped producing the paper when it became obvious that it had little hope of ever making a profit.

This is the sort of event about which the high-minded Chronicle often had sad and stern words to say. It is ironical that it should have fallen foul of the same commercial necessities of capitalist society.

Head Office (1960)

Party News from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain need a Head Office in Central London comprising a large room, suitable for Executive Committee and other meetings; plus a number of other rooms, for literature distribution. sub-committee meetings, etc. The location must be within reasonable walking distance of an Underground station, in the Kings Cross, Euston, or Camden Town areas; or could be a little further North, or further West. The market for business properties is very lively nowadays. and our approaches to agents have not led to any success. Therefore we ask readers who may be able to help, to send their suggestions to: The New Premises Committee. 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4.

The King of Nepal (1960)

From the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Several weeks ago the King and Queen of Nepal paid a state visit to London. You may recall the event, particularly if you were a Londoner caught up in the traffic chaos that day and were not mollified by the background of pageantry.

The City of London, however, showed pleasure unalloyed. The Crown Prince Birinda of Nepal watched the Guildhall luncheon in honour of his father, King Mahendra. Four hundred guests tackled lobster soup; sole and pheasant.

The king wore the same gorgeous uniform. as he did for his reception by the Royal Family on his arrival, with the addition of the baton of a British field-marshal, newly presented to him by the Queen. In his speech he said:—
  London is especially attractive to us because here was begun the battle of liberty and freedom, centuries ago, and here it was won during the latest—and let us hope, the last—challenge in war.
  The task is now to press on with the Battle of Peace—and we in Nepal unshakeably believe that London is going to be our greatest friend in this struggle, too.
Why do the Nepalese King and Queen hob-nob with “our” Queen, and what is the significance of Nepal to the British ruling class? What meaning lay behind the King's speech at the Guildhall? Such suspicious questions seem to come naturally to Socialists, for we have learned by experience in capitalism not to take too much notice of the description on the label.

May we now proceed to attempt to unravel the little mystery of the royal visit even though it may rather take some of the glitter off the tinsel.

Nepal is a border state between India and Tibet. It is 525 miles long and up to 140 miles wide, with a population of 5½ million. The family of the present ruler has been in power for decades and the history of Nepal is a long story of royal ruthlessness, trickery and bloody outrages.

Nepal invaded Tibet in 1855 and received annual tribute until 1952, when Tibet was colonised by “Socialist” China. Since then China has reversed the process and has become in turn the aggressor. The Chinese last June invaded Nepal's border, killed a Nepalese army officer and took prisoners back. It naturally gave a severe jolt to relations between them and makes it understandable that the Nepalese ruling-class should now wish to lean on the U.K. And with India on its other border Nepal is between two dangerous giants.

But the so-called Socialist Government of Nepal is good at playing one off against the other and in the process doing well for the ruling-class. To date the economic and technical aid from India amounts to about 100 million rupees (£8 million). Besides, India has been helping Nepal build up her vital lines of transportation and supply. A 972 mile highway linking Katmandu, the capital, with the Indian border was constructed by Indian engineers. In 1958 an agreement with India was signed for the laying of nearly 900 miles of roads. India has also agreed to contribute R's 500,000 for irrigation and waterworks.

From China, too, Nepal has received R'S 10 million in economic aid as part of a R's 60 million aid programme. Russia, too, has agreed to set up a hydro-electric power plant, a sugar factory with a diesel power plant, and to prepare a road survey costing three million roubles.

Whilst Nepalese capitalism is expanding, the Nepalese working-class is suffering heavy unemployment and is embarrassing the so-called Socialist government of the country. They, however, hold out hope in the start of the second five-year Plan now beginning, which has made provision to absorb about half a million working people during the Plan period. Social services cannot do much to tackle this thorny problem and the population is growing at the rate of 1.5 per cent. per year.

Amongst the Nepalese underprivileged, so great is the struggle for existence that normally children over 10 work and some even below that age. But unemployment means cheap labour, and cheap labour can give rise to good profits. No wonder the City of London are interested. The dinner at the Guildhall was bread cast upon the water, to be returned with interest.

The recently elected “Socialist” government of Nepal serves to mark that country's entry into the world of capitalism. The Sino-Indian dispute and its repercussions loom large on the Nepalese political horizon, but as a way out the Nepalese ruling class is developing a world consciousness.

When the King of Nepal referred to liberty and freedom, he was no doubt referring to the liberty and freedom for the ruling class to make money with as little in the way of restrictions and hindrances as possible. Those who remember the journeys and activities of the Duke of Windsor when he was Prince of Wales will realise that the King of Nepal is not the first royal commercial traveller.
Frank Offord

Peace a Profession? (1960)

From the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peace Is Our Profession. Headquarters Strategic. Air Command," states the giant notice board outside the U.S. Strategic Air Command H.Q. at Omaha, Nebraska. From this base, under the command of General Power, are directed the activities of 250,000 personnel in seventy bases throughout the world, over 2,000 bombers and jet-tankers, and 90 per cent. of the Western Alliance's nuclear striking power.

In the event of war over 1,000 bombers, each one capable of more destruction than all the bombers involved in the whole of the last war, would be sent aloft. The crews of these bombers have pre-arranged targets and are constantly on the alert; at least once every twenty-four hours the alarm is sounded. The entire fleet of aircraft can be airborne within a quarter of an hour—the first within three and a half minutes.

Under a system of warnings and controls the crews are able to fly to predetermined points on their target routes; if they have a final go-ahead, on the express orders of the American President, they would continue on their routes and press home their attack. (If this final order is not given the bombers are instructed to return to their bases). Simultaneously intercontinental ballistic missiles—the long range rockets with H- bomb war-heads—would be released.

And so it goes on, this melancholy tale of potential destruction on a scale hitherto undreamt of.

These facts and figures apply more or less equally to the Soviet bloc and, of course, to Britain's R.A.F. and the air forces of other powers, all of which are on a permanent war footing. It’s all for peace and for the defence of righteous principles—they all say.

The American ruling class and their allies allege that it's a case of safeguarding freedom, democracy, “a way of life," a heritage; and, to help things along, they are never shy of enlisting the Almighty. Krushchev and company's tale is a little different. Apparently they have to offer defence against imperialism (particularly the American variety) to keep safe the “People's State" and “Socialism." So in order that people should remain “free" (both sides having their own peculiar definitions of this term), opposing capitalist powers are prepared if necessary to take part in the possible wholesale destruction of mankind.

What can be done to end this terrible state of affairs? Capitalist politicians can only talk on terms of a third world war and local conflicts (which may or may not remain localised) as long as they have the unquestioning support of the world's workers. Without this they would be impotent.

Modern wars are caused by property conflicts between rival teams of big business, arrayed on a national level, the private bosses of America and the state bosses of Russia being at present the major contestants. The stakes are high: vast resources, natural and man made, markets for an ever increasing volume of goods, to protect or capture these, capitalist states need strategic bases and political spheres of influence.

With these real, material, profitable bones of contention the alleged principles are clearly demonstrated to be something less than principles. Former enemies who were never, never to be re-armed, become military allies, and personal association with the previous regime is no impediment in this unsavoury process. Franco Spain and Salazar Portugal help to protect “democracy," as does Chiang Kai Shek and as did Syngmann Rhee. Dubious Latin American regimes are supported, so as to ensure stability; that is, the status quo on investments. The Soviet hierarchy with their commercial, and therefore, military commitments, are not at a loss in the game; in fact, they are racing neck and neck, if not leading by a short head.

Fidel Castro seems to be a friend in need at the moment; strategy and oil are more than remarkable coincidences (Batista, his more sadistic predecessor, was a stabiliser of Uncle Sam's). Nasser was the lad sometime ago, and new faces representing new aspiring ruling classes are constantly arising from the colonial struggles.

And so this dirty game of power politics goes on, over issues which are not worth the shedding of one drop of working class blood. It is now 21 years since the beginning of World War II. It began with Allied indignation at German bombing of “open cities," like Warsaw, went on with indiscriminate aerial bombardment by both sides, and concluded with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Are you going to allow an even greater catastrophe, or are you going to wake up NOW!
Frank Simkins

The Passing Show: Freedom of the Press (1960)

The Passing Show Column from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Freedom of the Press
In recent years many newspapers have been forced to cease publication or to sell out and merge with their competitors. No longer are only small papers involved: in the past few months papers as well known as the Sunday Empire News, the News Chronicle and the Star, have gone the way of the rest. It is a cliche that the Freedom of the Press is in practice the freedom of rich men to spread their views through the newspapers they own. Those of us in the Socialist Party know only too well that without vast amounts of capital the Socialist Standard has been able to reach only a small minority of the working class. But the conditions of entry in the newspaper stakes are becoming even more stringent than ever before. The News Chronicle lost money (and therefore, in a capitalist society, had in due course to close down) even though it had a daily readership of over one million. People other than millionaires have not been able to produce a healthy daily paper for many years: now, even the lesser millionaires must be getting worried. Once any millionaire with a taste for it could partake of the Freedom of the Press: now, apparently, only multi-millionaires are allowed to join the club.

The news that the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to visit the Pope makes one wonder what they will talk about. At any rate, we can be sure it won't do the working class any good. For the Pope agrees with the Archbishop that capitalism is a fine system. This is from the Sunday Press (18/10/59):
  The Holy Father yesterday contrasted the appalling exploitation of workers at the beginning of the century with their present-day pleasant working conditions. Management and labour, working together in harmony, had created a new situation where the workers had never had it so well.
The reader may think that at least it is something that the Pope realises that things were bad sixty years ago. But, of course, everyone will agree that things were bad sixty years ago. The ruling class and its allies are prepared to admit anything except that the present system is bad. In the early years of the century, when the Socialist Party was already working, speaking and writing about "the appalling exploitation of workers," the then Popes were supporting the capitalist system, just as the present Pope supports the capitalist system now. In fifty years' time, no doubt, the Pope (if there still is one) will be talking about “the appalling exploitation of the workers in I960." But it does no good to attack the evils of half a century ago: they can't be altered now. What must be done is to attack the evils of today—i.e., the evils which are inseparable from the capitalist system.

Pray and work
And what has the Pope to say about the present? He gave, apparently, a “rousing warning against those who trampled the sacrosanct rights of the human person’’—but had no word to say of the Catholic-supported Fascist government of Spain, which denies the workers the most elementary democratic rights. And he rounded off with some advice which must have had every capitalist in the audience standing and cheering:
  The Pope recommended the workers to practise Christian virtues and follow the motto of St. Benedict, “Ora et Labora” (pray and work). In so doing, you will earn the treasures of heaven, he said. 
Believe that if you like. One thing is certain: you won't earn treasures anywhere else.

Monkey business
At a furniture factory in Houston, Texas, three chimpanzees have begun work sealing cushions and doing other simple jobs. The factory-owner plans to replace one employee each week with a chimp. To the factory's workers, this means the threat of the sack, the threat of unemployment. But there is more to it than that. Surely this news item underlines our present predicament. These human beings—members of the human race, which produced Michaelangelo, Beethoven, Shakespeare—are now reduced to spending their working lives doing monotonous, repetitive jobs which could be done as well by chimpanzees. This is not a question of spending a couple of hours a day, or ten hours a week, tending machines, which people may well decide to do under Socialism, in order to produce enough of the necessaries of life and at the same time free themselves for the rest of the time to develop their personalities as they think best. This is a question of workers spending their entire working lives on stultifying tasks.

The Daily Herald (12/11/60) printed an article which said this should be stopped because of the harm it would do to the human ego. “. . . There are things that the human ego rejects, out of hand, without another thought. And one of those things is the realisation that one's occupation, one’s life work, could be done equally well by a chimpanzee.”

This must typify the difference in political thought between reformers and Socialists. The writer of the Herald article would stop the chimpanzees doing "these jobs, because it makes obvious the degradation of human beings involved— this, of course, would do nothing to stop the degradation. Socialists, on the other hand, want to abolish the system which leads to men spending their lives in this way.

No trivialities
From an advert, in The Times (19/10/60):
  The owner of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II has his sights firmly on fundamentals and is never decoyed by passing trivialities. A philosophy reflected in his choice of motor car. . . .
So that’s how you get a Rolls. Next time you see anyone driving a broken-down old jalopy tied together with string, don’t assume rashly that it’s because he can’t afford anything better: no, it was his philosophy which led him to choose that model. If you feel that you have your “sights firmly on fundamentals” and the rest of it—well, your philosophy clearly entitles you to a Rolls. Better apply direct.
Alwyn Edgar

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Finance and Industry: Making Money from Armaments (1960)

The Finance and Industry Column from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Making Money from Armaments
A generation or more ago, when most of the world's armaments were made by private companies, it seemed plausible to many people that if the armament-making came under government control and private profit was taken away there would be no deliberate encouragement of armament competition and the risk of war would be less. It was always a mistaken hope because the economic rivalries that make for war come from all the profit-seeking interests in all the countries, not just some sections or some countries. And in our own day armaments moving openly or secretly across the world are mostly despatched by governments not by private companies. These in any event could not operate without the consent of their own government.

The popular way of looking at the armament trade has changed too, and “merchants of death” has gone out of fashion as a term of abuse. This is not surprising, because the governments supplying the arms now present themselves as public benefactors, only concerned to help “good causes.” Anyway, all the governments are in the business—from the last Labour Government in Britain, which sold military aircraft abroad, to America, Israel and Russia.

Russia's latest business deal in its growing invasion of world markets is the reported sale to India of £11 million worth of equipment, including heavy transport aircraft, helicopters and road building machinery. (Guardian, 7/10/60). The India Government wanted to buy in America but the Russians offered the stuff at lower prices. The significant aspect is that the purpose of the purchase is to enable India “to defend its border with China.”

Of course, China may or may not continue to be Russia's ally, but business is business, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and who can object if Russia helps both sides.

It recalls the attitude of the Russian Government (and of the Communist Party) during the war, before Russia became involved. The Russian Government was selling oil and other materials to Germany and some simple-minded people here complained about it. Which brought from the Secretary of the Russia Today Society a letter to the Manchester Guardian assuring its readers that the Russian Government was quite willing to sell to both sides.

The "Alternative" Society
The people who refer to present-day capitalism as the affluent society make much of the greater variety of articles that are available to be bought by the mass of the population. They quote aggregate figures of washing machines, motor cars, refrigerators, etc., and the figures look impressive. But Mr. Mark Abrams, writing in the Observer (23/10/60) provides an analysis which puts the matter in better perspective. He divides families into two groups, those in “which the chief earner is in a white-collar post and earning at least £800 a year,” and those not in this group. About a third of families fall into the first group, and two-thirds into the second group, which he calls “working-class.”

He includes receivers of property incomes in this group as well as wage and salary earners. He shows that “only one item—the television set—is to be found in the majority of British homes.’' The rest are the possessions of minorities.

His list showing the percentage who own various items, among his “working-class” group is as follows:—
Television set            79 per cent.
Lawn mower             34 „
Washing machine ...  37 „
Car                            22
Refrigerator              13
House                         29
He does not make the important point that the percentage who own all of these items is, on his figures, at most 13 per cent. He does not include a telephone in this list; had he done so the percentage owning the lot would probably be under 10 per cent.

And he does not stress the point that “own” is an ambiguous term since millions of the houses and the rest are only “owned” by the user in the sense that he has them while paying off the mortgage or hire purchase instalments. And “car” includes all the barely roadworthy crocks.

Another enquiry (also referred to in the Observer) brings out that “many families when furnishing a home, prefer to leave some rooms bare rather than incur a small millstone of debt.” For the majority of workers it is not a question of moving all the things on the list but of owning one or two because they cannot afford them all—the alternative society. You can have full choice as long as you can afford what you buy.

A description of life in Stepney by Godfrey Hodgson (Observer, 21/8/60.) had the following which should further dampen the optimists.
  The Rev. Joseph Williamson, of St. Paul's, Dock Street, said that the best living quarters in his parish were the Peabody Buildings. They had no baths. The lavatories and sinks were outside the flats themselves, and were shared. “In illness, in winter especially, this is bad.” But all the other blocks of old flats were far worse.
  “Apart from the flats,” Father Williamson went on, “we have squalor beyond belief. Let me say in all seriousness that on a modern farm the accommodation provided for pigs is far superior.”

Canada’s Unemployment
The myth still receives wide acceptance that all the countries have for a decade had the low level of unemployment ruling in Britain. This ignores the years of massive unemployment that afflicted the workers in Germany and Italy until comparatively recently. And it ignores Canada. The Financial Times (28/10/60) printed a graph of unemployment in the past four years since January, 1957. It shows unemployment in Canada reaching 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. in each winter and never falling below 4 per cent. except early in 1957 and for a short period in 1959.

The Canadian Government has been calling special conferences to deal with the situation and admits that it threatens to get worse. Many British immigrants are coming back. The Canadian motor industry has been asking for tariff protection against the import of British cars.

Canadian workers out of a job or threatened with dismissal because of falling sales can derive what comfort they can from their Prime Minister’s remark that “the situation would get worse if action were not taken, and he promised that it would be taken before Parliament met.” Times (24th September, 1960.)

Russian Trade Policy
The oil industry has been worried by big Russian sales of oil at below the prices ruling in the rest of the world, but the Times (11/10/60) hopefully interprets some remarks made by Krushchev at a lunch in New York when he was asked: —
  Whether Russia would extend to other commodities the same sort of agreement on quotas that it had accepted already for tin, aluminium and diamonds.” According to Pravda “Mr. Krushchev replied that there was no reason why this principle should not be extended to other goods.”
The Times interprets this as meaning that “Russia is willing to join international commodity agreements provided that Western countries are prepared to allow the U.S.S.R. what it regards as a fair share of the market.” In the diamond industry it will be remembered that Russia now sells all its diamonds through the South African Diamond Group. A correspondent writing in Reynolds News (16/10/60) went further and suggested that Western oil interests are trying to do a deal with Russia.
   The leading capitalists in the world, the mammoth international oil companies, are planning to break through the Cold War barriers that have throttled top-level political contact between East and West since the Paris Summit fiasco. They are determined to make a vast oil deal with the Russians. In effect, they want to set up a cartel agreement that would span all the world's oil supplies . . . though the first news leaks, planned to test the temperature, refer to the scheme as a “ live and let live arrangement.”
   The Plan: Russia should be allowed to move immediately and extensively into the huge European oil market. With a one-fifth increase in consumption in 1959, this is still the world’s biggest market despite mounting African and Asian demands.
   In return, the Russians would offer the big international companies no oil challenge in the rest of the Western Zone and among the neutral nations.

Business Morality
Children may still be taught that honesty is the best policy and crime does not pay, but once they enter the adult world of business these notions fade away, not by “brainwashing” but simply by disuse; to be replaced by the practical rule that what is profitable is right, but when in doubt you should consult a good lawyer. In a successful take-over bid those who lose may set up an outcry about “shady methods,” but the business world really sees nothing wrong in taking over a concern at a fraction of its value, throwing out or buying out sitting directors, and getting rid of redundant workers. And when the takeover assumes the form of a government seizing foreign investments at dictated rates of compensation or none at all, the rest of the world sheds no tears over the “business immorality” of it but hurries in to trade with the new owners.

Cuba is a case in point. Fidel Castro’s government seized American-owned sugar plantations and factories and went on handling and selling the sugar on its own account. From the standout of capitalist morality these are "stolen goods.” So the American ex-owners started action to obstruct the sale of Cuban sugar by Castro’s government. At this point we turn to the Daily Telegraph (22/10/60), a correspondent of which had been making enquiries about the Americans’ chances.

The one thing entirely missing from the article was a nice upstanding declaration that of course they would not touch stolen goods, because that would be dishonest. The attitude rather was the purely legalistic one that the American companies do not stand a chance of proving their case. Not a denial that the Sugar is “stolen” but a near certainty that no American company can prove that a particular lot of unmarked Cuban sugar came from a particular factory which used to belong to the company.

The article quoted “a spokesman of a City firm” who said: “It is impossible to make any forecast. But if you have a cargo of, say 9,000 tons of sugar it would be very difficult for a person on the other side of the Atlantic to say: ‘These grains came from our factory'. "

Tate and Lyle’s are going on buying Cuban sugar and told the Daily Telegraph “We have not allowed our buying policy to change as a result of the dispute between the Cubans and the Americans.”
Edgar Hardcastle

The Hidden Persuaders (1960)

Book Review from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard. (Penguin Books. 2/6d.)

This interesting, and in part entertaining, critique of a now not so new approach to advertising has recently been added to the Penguin catalogue. Although this one short book obviously cannot, and indeed does not attempt to, deal more than very superficially with the subject (as well as revealing Mr. Packard's obvious bias) it contains much useful information and some pertinent comments.

Motivation research invented and pioneered by people like Dr. Ernest Dichter (President of Motivation Research Inc.) and Louis Cheskin (Director of the Colour Research Institute of America) as early as the 1930's, has been developed since the second World War, and really became established in the early I950‘s. Even today those who are most enthusiastic admit that “M.R.” is only in its early stages.

What is M.R., and how does it help in advertising? Briefly, it could be explained as “selling to the subconscious that is, finding people’s hidden weaknesses, wishes and frustrations, and exploiting these in order that, to meet expanding production, they can be persuaded to buy more.

Different experts favour different methods of M.R., the best known of these is the “depth interview." For this individuals or groups of people taken from a cross section of the population are led in discussion by experts, having first been put in a relaxed state of mind either by hypnosis or the administration of a special drug. It is claimed by advocates of this method that. "when their defences are down,” people reveal secrets to which they would not admit under normal circumstances.

M.R. is used not only in persuading the consumer to buy more. Public relations experts can be found advising churchmen on how they can become more effective manipulators of their congregation, business concerns of their employees and politicians of their voters.

By the mid-fifties both major United States Parties had become deeply involved in the use of professional persuaders. In early 1956 “Nation's Business,” published by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, proclaimed: “Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals, planned repetition. . . . Candidates need, in addition to rich voices and good diction, to be able to look ‘sincerely' at the TV camera." This method of ‘selling’ was used to such an extent at the last but one Presidential Election that Mr. Adlai Stevenson said: “The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal . . . is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process."

As Socialists are not surprised that those in control under the present system are constantly trying to think of new ways to persuade us (quoting Christianity and Crisis, an American Protestant publication) ‘‘to consume, consume and consume, whether we need or even desire the product almost forced upon us . . . to consume to meet the needs of the productive process,” to accept their ideas, religion and leaders.

Although at present the use of M.R. in the United Kingdom is negligible, it will certainly increase. The Observer may have had this in mind when featuring Dr. Dichter in their “Profile" a few weeks ago.

Mr. Packard in his final chapter quotes Clyde Miller in his book The Process of Persuasion: “When we learn to recognise the devices of the persuaders, we build a ‘recognition reflex.' Such a recognition reflex can protect us, not only against the petty trickery of small time persuaders operating in the commonplace affairs of everyday life, but also against the mistaken or false persuasions of powerful leaders. . . That, surely, is a good thing for all of us to bear in mind when listening to the utterances of those who “lead" us today.
E. C.