Monday, April 8, 2019

Neither ‘Yes’ nor ‘No’ but World Socialism (2014)

From the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March the Scottish nationalist website Bella Caledonia interviewed ‘veteran left-winger’ Tariq Ali after he called for a ‘Yes’ vote in this month’s referendum in Scotland. We disagree.

‘Scottish Labour politicians claim they speak for internationalism, and often accuse independence supporters of parochialism and petty nationalism. As an internationalist living in London, why are you supporting independence?’

This was first question put to Tariq Ali. It is true that the supporters of Scottish formal ‘independence’ (any meaningful economic independence is impossible in today’s interdependent world) are promoting ‘petty nationalism’ but, as Tariq Ali rightly replied, the Scottish Labour politicians opposed to it are not internationalists. They are British nationalists. But then he played on the ambiguity of the word ‘internationalist’ to argue that to be one didn’t mean you had to be anti-nationalist and so there was nothing incoherent about him supporting Scottish nationalism. This is indeed one meaning of the word – an internationalist as an inter-nationalist who stands for friendly relations between ‘nations’. In other words, someone who accepts the sense and legitimacy of nations, nationalism and the nation-state. It is because of this that we prefer to call ourselves ‘world’ rather than ‘international’ socialists. In our view, the nation-state is a capitalist political form and the nationalism they cultivate divides the world working class. Bella Caledonia took up this in one of their other questions:

‘A lot of socialists would deny that there is something particularly toxic about the British state, and would say that all capitalist states are bad.’

We are not sure whether a lot of people say that all capitalist states are bad, but that’s essentially our position. Tariq Ali conceded that ‘on one level, it can be said that the capitalist economy of these states is more or less the same’ but went on to argue that different states have different peculiarities. The British state, he said, needed ‘modernisation’ by which he meant that the monarchy and the House of Lords needed to be abolished. In fact the main reason why he supports Scottish independence seems to be because he feels that a breakaway by Scotland will help achieve this (the interview is headed ‘Dismantling the British State’). This is similar to the reason Marx gave in the 1860s and 70s for supporting Irish independence but that was 150 years ago and since then the British state has been ‘modernised’, ie the political power that the landed aristocracy wielded in Marx’s day has been broken and the state is now completely controlled by the capitalist class via universal suffrage. In any event, though socialists are interested in there being political democracy, we are not interested in making any capitalist state more efficient and fit for purpose. Tariq Ali finished his answer to this question with the jibe (and non-sequitur): ‘of course, you can argue that since capitalism is now dominant everywhere, then one shouldn’t do anything. But that would be a retreat into total passivity and fatalism.’ A more logical conclusion from accepting that capitalism is now dominant everywhere would be to work for its abolition everywhere, but that’s not Tariq Ali’s view. He wants to retreat into the futility of trying to reform capitalism everywhere, as he made clear in answer to this other question.

‘What’s your views on the Nordic model and other varieties of capitalism? Can Scotland draw on these ideas?’

To which Tariq Ali replied:
  ‘Well, we’re talking about a period in which the capitalist system has triumphed, and the ideas of socialism have suffered a huge defeat globally. So we’re living in a very strange transition period, which may well last until the end of the century. One shouldn’t exclude that. So one has to operate with what exists, and see how capital in its worst aspects can be regulated, how a state can be regulated that works for the benefit of working people.’
Tariq Ali used to be a ‘revolutionary’ Trotskyist, but he’s now an open reformist. Ironically, just like the Labour Party which he rightly has no time for, he argues that the only choice today is between different varieties of capitalism. Yes, a capitalism which spent more on better education, health, housing and other services would be nice – if you could get it. But you can’t, at least not permanently. The post-war Attlee Labour government, which he praises and urges an independent Scottish government to follow, did introduce some reforms which coincided with the general capitalist interest for an educated, healthy and productive (of profit) workforce. But capitalism cannot be ‘regulated’ to work ‘for the benefit of working people’. The priority under capitalism is profit and profit-making and all governments have to accept and abide by this, as the record of all governments including Labour has shown. Some of them set out to improve things for working people but all of them ended up having to give priority to profits even when this meant making things worse for working people by, for instance, holding down wages, worsening services and cutting benefits.

Bella Caledonia did not pose a specific question about what would happen to the standard of living of workers if Scotland broke away, but Tariq Ali himself did in answer to another question:
  ‘I remember when Tony Blair came on his last tour of Scotland, and he said, If you vote for independence, every family will lose £5,000 a year. Who dreamed up that figure?’
While it is true, as Tariq Ali went on to point out, that this is an arbitrary figure and meant to scare people into voting ‘No’, it is an argument that the ‘Yes’ campaign has to face and cannot simply dismiss out of hand. People could become worse off. This is what happened in Ireland when and after it got ‘independence’. Tariq Ali’s reply was that there’s no reason living standards should decline ‘if the economy is properly handled.’ This amounts to saying that at least people wouldn’t be worse off (of course claims that people would be better off are just the usual empty politicians’ promise). That may well be true but in that case what’s all the fuss about? If it’s not going to make any difference to living standards either way why bother taking sides in the referendum? Who needs to care about the result (apart from the Scottish nationalist politicians who would like to be able to strut on the international stage)? Some (such as these same politicians) will reply that that it’s not a sordid, material question but about ‘freedom’ and ‘dignity’. To which we reply: that’s just divisive, nationalist rhetoric. It does not deflect us, and should not deflect other workers in Scotland, from talking up the position ‘Neither Yes Nor No But World Socialism’ and writing this across their ballot paper.

Mixed Media: ‘In the Jungle of the Cities’, & ‘Kill Your Darlings’ (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Jungle of the Cities by Bertolt Brecht

While Brecht’s Arturo Ui was in London’s West End, the Arcola Theatre in Dalston in East London produced Brecht’s early play Im Dickicht der Städte (In the Jungle of the Cities) directed by Peter Sturm. Im Dickicht is a bewildering and bizarre play. After its May 1923 première in Munich it became notorious for its impenetrability, was seen as incomprehensible so it was deemed to be Jewish or Bolshevik or ‘Modern’ or all three. In a Munich which was a hotbed of Nazism in the pre-Beer Hall putsch days, performances of the play were disrupted several times by the Nazis. Its first English language production would be in New York City in 1960 by Judith Malina and the Living Theatre.

Brecht’s play is set in a mythical Chicago in the years 1912-15, although the mythologised wilderness of the modern city he called Chicago could also be Berlin, what he called ‘some bleak anywhere’, a city which had ‘become wild, dark, mysterious.’ The play portrays the brutality of urban capitalism, the city in the grip of rampant capitalism and ‘the big city as a jungle… the enmity of the metropolis, its malignant stony consistency, its Babylonian confusion of languages.’ Brecht was inspired by the popular Danish gangster novel Hjulet (The Wheel) by JV Jensen, Rimbaud’s poem cycle A Season in Hell, Schiller’s play The Robbers, and the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle which ‘set forth the breaking of human hearts by a system which exploits the labor of men and women for profit.’

Im Dickicht is the story of a savage battle between two men; Schlink, a Malay lumber dealer played by Jeffrey Kissoon, and George Garga, a book clerk in a lending library played by Joseph Arkley. Brecht wrote that poet Rimbaud was a model for the character of George Garga ‘a German translation from the French into the American.’ This struggle is at times an abstract wrestling match which can be seen as the class struggle in metaphorical terms. The relationship between Schlink and Garga is sado-masochistic at times, has elements of homosexuality which evokes the power struggle and relationship between the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine.

Im Dickicht could be the struggle against the pressing reality of the modern city, the human isolation and atomisation of individuals in capitalism where in crowded cities people are essentially alone. Schlink says ‘If you cram a ship full to bursting with human bodies, they’ll all freeze with loneliness.’ In this early play Brecht does not demonstrate his mature Marxist aesthetic with its clear political messages.

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Kill Your Darlings by Austin Bunn

Director John Krokidas and writer Austin Bunn’s 2013 film Kill Your Darlings draws on Jack Kerouac’s novel Vanity of Duluoz, portraying the early years (1943-44) of the ‘Beat Generation’ in New York City of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), William Burroughs (Ben Foster), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

We meet Allen Ginsberg at home in New Jersey with his poet father Louis and his mother Naomi. Louis was a socialist, his parents had been active in the Yiddish Arbeiter Circle, and he went with his father to lectures by Eugene Debs, IWW founder and Socialist Party of America Presidential candidate. Louis named his first son after Debs: ‘He was magnificent. All the ironies of the capitalist system came blazing forth. He was a brilliant man.’ Allen’s mother was a member of the Communist Party.

Allen goes to Columbia University studying to be a Labor Lawyer, meets Lucien Carr (‘blond, eighteen, of fantastic male beauty’ (Vanity of Duluoz), William Burroughs (Harvard educated St Louis patrician), and Jack Kerouac, ‘the stocky Breton with blue eyes and coal black hair’ (Gerald Nicosia, 1983), football player, poet, Merchant Marine, and originator of ‘First Thought Best Thought.’ Jack and Lucien liked to sing together folk songs, Leadbelly’s country blues, communist work songs, and with Ginsberg and Burroughs ‘they would have Dostoyevskian confrontations, endure horrors out of Kafka’ (Nicosia). Their artistic endeavours are inspired by Yeats, Whitman, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, the pleasures and wild sensations of marijuana, alcohol, Benzedrine and the Bebop Jazz music revolution of Charlie Parker (Bird).

Kerouac was a ‘Canuck’, a French-Canadian from the textile manufacturing mill-town of Lowell in Massachusetts, 13 miles north of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Ann Charters described Lowell as ‘poor, dirty and rundown, both working-class and obstinately bourgeois, belligerently provincial.’ In the 1920s and 1930s Lowell entered economic decline when companies relocated to the South where labour was cheaper, and in 1931 Harpers Magazine called it a ‘depressed industrial desert.’

Kerouac’s first language was ‘joual’ the French of the ‘Canucks’, a dialect of working-class Quebec French, and he would overcome the handicaps of his working-class ‘Canuck’ origins to become the greatest writer since James Joyce, ‘not even 72 hours a week of underpaid mill work could keep these people in their place’ wrote Nicosia. Ginsberg overcame being a ‘spindly Jewish kid with horn-rimmed glasses’ (Vanity of Duluoz) to become the poetical heir to William Blake, a 1960s Counter-Cultural guru and New Left icon. As Dave Kammerer says in the film ‘under the right circumstances he might change the world.’
Steve Clayton

Socialist Party Statement on the Marx Copyright Controversy (2014)

From the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

This spring, London-based publishers Lawrence & Wishart came under fire online and in the leftist press for allegedly trying to ‘privatise’ the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. By now over six thousand activists have signed online petitions demanding that the ‘nasty, capitalistic’ publishers retract their claim of a copyright ‘monopoly’ over the duo’s collected writings. The allegations make for compelling headlines, but in reality the issue isn’t so clear cut.

The works of Marx and Engels are valuable because they systematically document and explain the basic economic processes underpinning class societies. And an understanding of these processes is vital for identifying the problems with our own class society—capitalism—and what needs to be done to rectify them. Of course, countless later writers have helpfully summarised, elucidated, corrected, and interpreted Marx and Engels’s works, though many of the original writings remain relevant and worthy of study today.

Both men having died in the 19th century, the copyrights on their original publications have long since expired. They are now in the public domain, meaning that, as far as the law is concerned, anyone is free to copy and distribute them. However, this status applies only to the works as they were originally published, unannotated and (usually) in German. Under copyright law, whenever someone produces a new version of a public-domain work that extends or transforms it in an intellectually creative way, such as through editing, critical commentary, or translation into another language, a new copyright is manifested in the novel creative elements. British law fixes the term of copyright at 70 years following the death of the creator, so any translations and critical editions produced since 1944 are likely to be proprietary in the UK.

The recent furore over Lawrence & Wishart began when they demanded that the Marxists Internet Archive, a free online library, stop distributing material from a particular modern collection with the title Marx/Engels Collected Works. This collection is a 50-volume scholarly edition and English translation which Lawrence & Wishart had commissioned themselves (in collaboration with two other publishers) between 1975 and 2005. Though as a matter of law the publishers have the right to restrict republication of their own particular edition, their detractors have misunderstood this to mean that Lawrence & Wishart were asserting complete economic control over all of Marx and Engels’s works generally. In reality, the original German texts upon which the Collected Works is based, as well as many earlier English translations and editions of these same texts, remain in the public domain.

Certainly the Socialist Party would welcome a move by Lawrence & Wishart to release their Collected Works into the public domain, or under terms which would permit the Marxists Internet Archive to resume distributing it. But at the same time it is understandable why they have so far opted not to do this. Like any other private enterprise marketing a product, their very existence is predicated on their exclusive control of the fruits of their employees’ labour. It is illogical to attack a single commercial publisher for engaging in business practices which are, by economic necessity, no different from those of every other one.

What we can do, and indeed what we have always done, is to roundly condemn the entire socio-economic system which has led to the repugnant concept of  ‘intellectual property’. Not long ago the notion that anyone ought to be able to claim exclusive rights to the expression of an idea would have been considered absurd. Today, however, legislative and technological measures have enabled and entrenched the commodification of humanity’s intellectual output. While computers and the Internet have long since made it feasible to freely share the totality of the world’s knowledge, the realisation of this has been thwarted at every turn by those whose business models require that information, like physical commodities, remain scarce. In the digital world, of course, information is never scarce—entire libraries can be duplicated a thousand times over with the click of a button. Rather than face up to this fact, publishers have collectively erected artificial legal and technical barriers to the distribution of knowledge. Here, as elsewhere in capitalism, technological progress and social utility take a back seat to the preservation of profits.

The fundamental problem with the removal of Marx/Engels Collected Works from the internet, then, lies not with Lawrence & Wishart’s demand, nor with the bourgeois copyright regime which gave it legal force. Rather, it is with the capitalist mode of production in general, in which nothing—not even scholarly editions of socialist texts—is produced unless it can be sold at a profit. Capitalist businesses which are not willing to take such legally sanctioned but antisocial steps as are required to preserve their profits are doomed to fail, only to be supplanted by competitors with no such qualms. We therefore call on working people everywhere to unite for a single political solution: the abolition of the global capitalist system and its replacement with one based on common ownership and production for use instead of for profit.

Voice From The Back: Seeing Stars (2014)

The  Voice From The Back column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Seeing Stars
The working class are brought up to believe in leadership and encouraged to imagine that in a complicated society like capitalism it is best to leave decisions to the intellectually superior minds of politicians and statesmen. The madness of that notion was well illustrated by a recent news item. ‘The sick should turn to astrology for answers, a Tory MP has declared. David Tredinnick said astrology had a proven track at helping people recover from illness and should be incorporated into standard medical treatments. The MP for Bosworth in Leicestershire also admitted he had prepared astrological charts for fellow MPs – but refused to say who’ (Daily Mail, 26 July). Tredinnick is a member of two influential Commons committees, the health and science and technology committees, but it would be interesting to know if he suffers from some ill-health in the future whether he will consult an hospital or just look up his astrology chart.


Democracy Inc.
The United States of America never tires of telling the rest of the world what a perfect example of democracy the USA is, but the influence of corporate big business exposes that claim as nonsense.  An explosion of spending on political advertising on television – set to break $2 billion in congressional races, with overall spots up nearly 70 per cent since the 2010 midterm election – is accelerating the rise of moneyed interests and wresting control from the candidates’ own efforts to reach voters. ‘The top three outside groups alone – Americans for Prosperity, Senate Majority PAC, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – have already spent a combined more than $80 million in congressional races. Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has spent $44 million on House and Senate races. Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic Senate candidates, has spent more than $22 million on Senate races, and the Chamber of Commerce has spent up to $17 million on House and Senate races‘ (New York Times, 27 July).


Dirty Tricks
With the 100th anniversary of the day the First World War began, it is sobering to look back at the way that conflict was so badly reported. The catalogue of journalistic misdeeds is a matter of record: the willingness to publish propaganda as fact, the apparently tame acceptance of censorship and the failure to hold power to account. ‘But a sweeping condemnation of the press coverage is unjust because journalists, as ever, were prevented from informing the public by three powerful forces – the government, the military and their own proprietors. It is undeniable that newspapers began by demonising the German enemy. They published fabricated stories of German barbarism, which were accepted as fact‘ (Guardian, 27 July). It has taken 100 years for British newspapers to come clean about their misreporting so how much of that still goes on today?


Meat Grinder
We have all seen politicians and religious leaders commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great War of 1914-18. What we haven’t seen is any of them apologising for the society that produced such a bloodbath. ‘More than nine million troops were killed, and, depending on how you count them, as many as 10 million civilians. In Turkey, Russia, the Balkans and elsewhere, unprecedented millions of people became homeless refugees. Some 21 million soldiers were wounded. In Britain, 41,000 men had one or more limbs amputated; in France, so many had mangled faces that they formed a National Union of Disfigured Men’ (Guardian, 28 July). This is what capitalism and its drive for markets leads to  – disfigurement and death.


Les Miserables
In its unrelenting search for ways to cut welfare spending the NHS is an easy target as reports of poor mental health care show. Family doctors have warned of the deteriorating state of mental healthcare in England, after a survey revealed that one in five had seen a patient come to harm because they could not get specialist help. ‘GPs reported that some patients had committed suicide or been sectioned because of a lack of available community mental health services. More than eight in 10 GPs now believe that their local mental health teams cannot cope with caseloads, and nearly half said that the situation in their area had got even worse in the past 12 months‘ (Independent, 31 July).



Getting a Prophet? (2014)

The Halo Halo! Column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It can be a bit embarrassing, can’t it, when after a night of seriously heavy drinking and getting completely out of your skull, you climb onto the bar and, with your trousers round your ankles, belt out all the Dolly Parton songs you can remember. Or, nearly as bad, informing that stranger in the white robes and dodgy beard that you meet on the way home that he is definitely your best mate, and deciding, on the spot, to convert to Islam.

Well, depending on what you’ve done, help may now be at hand (as long as it wasn’t the Dolly Parton thing. If that’s what you’ve done the humiliation will probably remain for the rest of your life). But if it was a simple mistake like signing up to become a Muslim you can be helped.

As the fog of alcohol slowly clears and you lay in the gutter drifting in and out of consciousness you begin to realise, with horror, that you don’t even know the basic rules of the religion. Your brain wrestles with the questions that start flooding in: am I still allowed to eat pork scratchings in the pub on Friday nights? How long will it take to grow a full, heavy-duty, Islamic approved beard? Which of my female relatives must now dress from head to foot in black bin liners? Will they now have to walk ten paces behind me, or is that the other lot? But try to stay calm. If it is, indeed, Islam that you’ve joined you are in luck. They have produced a handy little book that explains it all.

The New Muslim Guide it’s called, and packed into its 250-odd pages are everything you need to know. (Well, not quite everything, there doesn’t seem to be anything about chopping off the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers to death, or when it’s ok to beat your wife). But just about everything else is there. Although, occasionally, it’s not completely clear what the prophet was on about.

‘Sometimes I fast and sometimes I don’t,’ he apparently once said. ‘I engage in night prayer and I also sleep, and I marry women. Therefore, whoever does not follow my practice is not one of my true followers’. What he was getting at there is anyone’s guess. No wonder there’s a bit of confusion between the Shias and the Sunnis. But there you go. English probably wasn’t his first language.

But stick with it, there’s a hell of a lot to learn. We don’t have room to cover it in detail so here are a few of the highlights. It must be understood though, that to ensure your place in paradise you will probably need to read the whole book. Admitting when you get there that you’ve only read a review of it in the Socialist Standard is not going to impress the prophet.

We must, however, include a few snippets that we feel should not be missed. Careful note of these will certainly earn you a few extra brownie points:

‘The very moment a person embraces Islam is doubtless the greatest moment in his life’ we are told. ‘Now that he has entered the fold of Islam, he is recommended to take a bath’. The removal of pubic and underarm hair is also required by ‘plucking it or by using any other means to serve the purpose’.

Unless the meaning of your pre-Islamic name contradicts Islamic beliefs it need not be changed. Otherwise it must be. Recommended new ones include ‘Abdullah’ (Slave of Allah) and ‘Abdur-Rahmaan’ (Slave of the Most Gracious). Well, a new name will help you remember your place, won’t it?

‘Firm belief that Almighty Allah will raise people to life from their graves’ is also required. ‘Those who deserve to go to Paradise will be sent to it, while those who deserve to go to Hellfire will be sent to it’. So anyone thinking about converting from Christianity should consider carefully whether the amenities of the Islamic heaven and hell are up to the standard of the Christian ones. You may, after all, be there for some time.

And before you finally convert to Islam consider how would their ideas stand up in a debate against, say, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for example? He has far fewer rules, and his followers realise that he doesn’t actually exist. Remember too, you are allowed to draw cartoons of the Spaghetti Monster. (Peace be upon him).
NW

50 Years Ago: Retrospect (2014)

First issue of the Socialist Standard.
The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this special issue we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the first Socialist Standard.

In all that time it has never missed an issue. Through the vicissitudes of two world wars, when we often wondered whether we would be able to carry on at all, to economic slump when we were able to continue publication only through the goodwill of our printers, who carried us in debt for years, the Socialist Standard has carried on.

Now, we look back on those years, sixty years which have seen so many changes and many terrible events.

Opposite this page we publish the front cover of the first Socialist Standard. It takes us back into another world, September, 1904—when the motor-car was still a dangerous novelty; when Orville Wright had only a few months before flown the first aeroplane, for just 12 seconds. Fleming had recently invented the thermionic valve, but radio was still in the distant future; and Rutherford had just begun his researches into the structure of the atom which were to result, forty years later, in the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

War in those days was something associated with petty campaigns to subdue the native populations of Africa and Asia, although the Boer War had given a foretaste of more serious things to come. The Entente Cordiale between Britain and France had been signed a year earlier as a defence against German capitalism, a grimmer warning of the holocaust in the future. And the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War a few months earlier presaged both the rise of Japanese capitalism and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In the world of politics there was a lot of talk about Socialism, but it was really reformism that was making the running. The formation of the Labour Party had still to wait two years, but parties like the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabians, and the I.L.P., were already busily paving the way for it. The German Social Democratic Party enjoyed the support of millions and there were similar and strong parties in France, Austria, Italy, and other countries, all claiming to be Socialist.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1964)

Competition (2014)

From the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was, perhaps, inevitable that during my regular participation in a pub quiz, whilst exhibiting some competitive zeal fuelled by good ale, a friend would ask ‘does this behaviour not represent a contradiction to your socialist principles?’ My response is always: ‘That’s where competition belongs – in sports and games. Importing the infantile competitive ego into the adult world of economics and politics is, however, quite a different matter’. A fairly convincing, if not comprehensive, retort to this particular accusation of hypocrisy I have always thought. Upon reflection I have pondered why I still retain, at least in this minor respect, any competitive urges at all. Perhaps it’s what remains of the cultural conditioning that we are all subjected to as children? Or perhaps the ‘infantile ego’ as I call it, does have a role to play in adult life after all – a disquieting and possibly heretical thought for a socialist!

Presumably for good evolutionary reasons children are born somewhat egocentric – they have to learn the social skills that make us such a successful species. There is no need to go into the psychological processes that transform the infant into a functioning social being but it is obvious that some achieve it more thoroughly and successfully than others. The retention of the ‘infantile ego’ can be due, in some part, to the conflicting values inherent in capitalist culture. At school we are told to both conform to social values through cooperating with other children and teachers etc but also to regard others as competitors on every level. This contradiction runs through the very heart of every subsequent social organisation that the individual will encounter during their lives – work, relationships, social clubs, sports clubs, etc. The one exception to this, naturally, is when you become a member of the Socialist Party where no ego conflicts are encountered (loud sound of the clearing of throats). The immature nature of capitalism in turn causes immaturity in its citizens and all of its institutions. Part of reactionary ideology proclaims that competition breeds excellence. We have never seen much evidence that truly talented people were created by a climate of competition – rather the reverse, in that they will usually point to the support of family, friends and teachers as reasons for their success. The need to continually feed the ego by competing with others is corrosive and, ultimately, very destructive. All of this is self-evident to socialists but what about the contention that the infantile ego might have a positive role to play?

Apart from sports and games, where some element of competition may exist, what other parts of life can benefit from the naivety of the childlike emotions? Perhaps the arts are a candidate –  show business is often described as infantile. Adults dressing up and playing characters on TV, the theatre and movies has a very childlike element to it. But there is a distinction between childlike and childish –  the former retains naivety for the purposes of creativity and the latter illustrates behaviour motivated by immature egos (it can be observed that the two are very closely linked within the character of artistic personalities). A naïve perspective is one way of undermining cultural conditioning which is an essential component of creativity (and something we find so endearing about children). In the fine arts a naive eye, seeing the world as if for the first time, can greatly aid a fresh and sometimes subversive perspective.

Some have said that the concept of socialism depends on the naivety of a liberated imagination that trusts in human potential. Of course it depends on a lot of other elements including the study of the dialectical processes within historical development but I would agree, that initially, the liberation from cultural conditioning does depend on the ability to imagine an alternative. Perhaps therein lies the secret to this paradox – capitalism has harnessed the infantile ego so that the individual feels obliged to continually compete to feel legitimised and to do so he must play by their rules – you cannot win if you do not participate in the game. He is trapped within this vicious circle which takes up all his energy and time and so never allows him to develop the concept that the game is not worth the winning and that there is no need to play it at all! Antithetically socialism is initially trying to harness the other part of ’the inner child’ that has the potential to liberate the imagination and so break through the illusion of maturity that in capitalism simply means conforming to rules based on the insecurity inherent within the infantile ego – a potential synthesis of contradictory elements within the human psyche.

We have deliberately not divided the psyche into the traditional Freudian division of Ego, Id and Super Ego because, although a great deal of psychological analysis originates from this  we do not want to base our observations purely on psychology. Politics is the greatest of all multi-disciplines and must include psychological dimensions as it does those of economics, history, philosophy and so on. The contention is simply that the infantile ego that brings us pleasure in games but pain in almost every other area of life is the same entity whose naivety can liberate the imagination and so be the first step in creating the world’s first truly mature culture – socialism. 
Wez.

Obituary: Andy Cox (2014)

Obituary from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my twin brother, Andy, my lifelong and closest buddy, who succumbed to a massive and totally unexpected heart attack on 8 June. He was at the very prime of his life and, after a long period of huge personal distress, when things finally seemed to be looking up for him and his new partner, Kim, he was taken from us. All who knew him will recognise in him one of the nicest and warmest of human beings one could meet whose generosity of spirit, genuine humanity and concern for others could not be doubted.

Andy was a revolutionary socialist before I was and, in fact, was instrumental in me encountering the SPGB, He lived in Clapham in London for a short while in the early 1970s, not far from the SPGB Head Office. It was in his little bedsit that I saw my first copy of the Socialist Standard. Our early years together, first at a catholic boarding school in Pretoria and then serving in the South African army as conscripts (we both narrowly escaped being sent to Angola at that time, to fight the MPLA and the Cubans by dint of joining the regimental bugle band in Walvis Bay, Namibia) provided fertile soil in which our subsequent radicalisation took root. Apartheid South Africa in 1972 was a seething hotbed of liberal student protest . That was when Andy was first arrested and questioned by the police for distributing subversive literature; I was a little more fortunate in escaping the long arm of the law. Our long hair and bell bottoms were probably grounds enough for suspicion.

When the family emigrated to the UK that year, our political evolution continued – in my case from Heathite Tory, to green activist, to left wing zealot and, finally, revolutionary socialist. Andy beat me to that final place of ideological repose even if I joined the SPGB before him. He was less of an activist than I was but in no way was he less a revolutionary socialist. People sometimes conflate Party activism with commitment to the socialist cause. That is a mistake, I think. Andy was not much of a Party activist though in recent years, after I emigrated to Spain, he joined the South West regional branch and started attending branch meetings. However, his commitment to the cause was never in doubt. There is a long tradition of a kind of DIY approach to promoting socialism, both inside and outside the Party, and Andy was no exception in that respect.

This is no better exemplified than in the case of the website he set up called “A Point of View (http://andycox1953.webs.com/) which contains a number of his articles. These reveal his fine flair as a wordsmith and his ability to marshal empirical facts and ruthless logic, much as a gifted military strategist would deploy detachments of military units to confound the enemy. Andy had been helping me with a long term (and long overdue) project – writing a hefty tome on the subject of “socialist values” – and I shall sorely miss his wise counsel and sure-footed insights.

But, above all, I shall miss him and the person he was, as will so many who had the pleasure and the privilege of having known him. He was a truly remarkable man and a wonderful human being.
Robin Cox

Poverty Excludes (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We look at different concepts of poverty, at the idea of social exclusion and at how governments have tried and failed to eradicate these.
Poverty need not imply destitution, the situation where a person simply cannot provide for themselves. Many asylum-seekers are forced to survive on £5 a day and so can genuinely be described as destitute, or as in absolute or extreme poverty. An alternative notion is that of relative poverty, living below a poverty line usually defined as a household receiving less than 60 percent of the median household income. Thus in 2011-12, the median household income in the UK was £23,200 (down from £24,100 in 2007-8): 60 percent of this would be £14,460. Naturally, such figures need to be adjusted to take account of differences in terms of family size and the cost of living in different parts of the country. That same year, more than one child in four lived in a household with income below the 60 percent poverty line after housing costs were taken into account. The extent of poverty is also revealed by increases in the numbers resorting to food banks and to petty shoplifting, even from pound stores, and by rises in cases of malnutrition treated in hospitals (over five thousand in 2012).

An alternative approach defines poverty in relation to typical living standards:
  ‘Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack resources to obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged and approved, in the societies in which they belong’ (Peter Townsend, quoted from www.cpag.org.uk/content/what-is-poverty).
This is often described as social exclusion: ‘being unable to access the things in life that most people take for granted’ (definition from Age Concern). At the very least this would mean: decent housing which was not overcrowded and which people could afford to heat; eating healthy and nutritious food, without worrying about skimping towards the end of the week and resorting to food banks; buying warm and functional clothes, without relying on hand-me-downs and charity shops; access to good-quality health care; having the chance to perform useful and rewarding work; being able to afford bus and train fares; enjoying some basic leisure activities, such as a trip to the cinema or a day in the country; having an annual holiday that is more than just staying with relatives. Not too much to ask, you might think, given the capabilities of modern society, but in fact beyond the reach of millions.

In his 2010 book Injustice, Daniel Dorling claimed that one-sixth of households in Britain count as poor, with debt as the main problem that prevents them from affording necessities, arguing that ‘People spend and get into debt to maintain their social position not out of envy of the rich, but out of the necessity to maintain self-respect.’ You cannot keep up your self-respect if you truly are excluded from the normal standards of present-day living.

It is sometimes said, not just that the 60 percent figure is arbitrary, but that relative poverty, and the concept of social exclusion too, can give a very false impression, as under them people can still be regarded as poor even if their standard of living is well above that of poor people a generation or two before. And even those who are not destitute may have the use of gadgets and technology that did not even exist a couple of decades ago. If you have a big colour television, the argument goes, how can you be poor? One response is that you can still be socially excluded in the way sketched above; another would be that the comparison should be with the very richest people in society, who have prospered very nicely in spite of the recession; and finally, that the true comparison should be with the possibilities for life in a socialist world.

Reformist governments have of course addressed the problem of poverty. In 1999 Tony Blair proclaimed a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020, but this has not been going well, with the interim target of halving child poverty by 2010-11 being missed. It was only cut by about a third, and even this reduction was partly due to a drop in the median income and hence the poverty line being lower. And as in other areas, government terminology did not quite mean what it appeared to. Just as ‘full employment’ does not imply that everyone who wants a job has one, so ‘eradicating’ child poverty does not mean getting rid of it altogether. Rather, it was intended that fewer than 10 percent of children should live in families below the poverty line.

This specific target, along with others, was enshrined in Labour’s Child Poverty Act of March 2010. The other big parties supported it, though the Tories complained that it tackled the symptoms of poverty rather than the causes. Shortly after the 2010 election, when poverty statistics for 2008-9 were published, Iain Duncan Smith stated:
  Millions of children, adults and pensioners are daily experiencing the crushing disadvantage that poverty brings. They are living at the margins of society, unable to achieve their aspirations and trapped in dependency. … Vast sums of money have been poured into the benefits system over the last decade in an attempt to address poverty, but today’s statistics clearly show that this approach has failed.
The point about dealing with symptoms rather than causes was correct, but that after all is essentially what every government does. The Tory idea of the causes of poverty is also rather different from that of socialists: Duncan Smith later argued that the Labour government ‘did not do enough to make work pay’, though he is of course not suggesting that the Coalition should act to increase wages.

The cause of poverty, however defined, is not that the benefits system encourages  dependency and undermines any ambitions that people have. Nor is it that the tax system penalises those who earn relatively little when they start earning a bit more. The fundamental cause is the way that society is organised, with a small minority owning the means of production and the overwhelming majority forced to sell their labour power for a wage in order to survive. The degree of inequality this gives rise to is scarcely credible: the five richest families in Britain own more wealth then the poorest fifth of the population.

To be more accurate, workers are forced to attempt to sell their labour power, since there will not always be a capitalist in a position to exploit a worker and therefore willing to employ them. Workers may sometimes be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living, while at other times they may be excluded from what is by any criterion a basically acceptable way of life. But we are always excluded from true empowerment over our lives and those of our families – and that is not something that can be achieved under the present social system.
Paul Bennett

Goodbye, Piccadilly (2014)

Book Review from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Joseph O’Neill: ‘Manchester in the Great War'. Pen and Sword £9.99.

This is a better book than first seemed, given the unpleasant remarks made in the Introduction. O’Neill claims that the generation of 1914 were motivated by ‘municipal pride and love of country’, values that people have since been taught to hate. The educational establishment have supposedly emphasised multiculturalism, and so white working-class children have been cut off from their roots. Fortunately such bigoted attitudes do not surface in the rest of the book.

There was a rush to join up among many workers when war was declared in August 1914. This was sometimes on political grounds (‘poor little Belgium’), but also for economic and other reasons (not much patriotism, then). Life expectancy in Manchester was below the national average, with men generally not making it into their fifties. For many, enlisting offered an escape from unemployment or tedious badly-paid work. In the case of one 16-year-old living in a one-room house on Oldham Road, the war was ‘a grand opportunity to join the army and see the world’ (one wonders if he saw much more than the inside of a trench).

There was much social pressure on those who did not volunteer, but by late 1915 the enthusiasm to join up was waning. The announcement that conscription was likely to be introduced led to many single men applying for jobs in munitions factories, on the grounds that such work would be likely to exempt them from the call-up. By the end of 1916 more than half the local population were involved in turning out war materials.

But there was also a great deal of industrial unrest, with strikes aimed at countering the effects of rent increases and massive price rises, especially for food and clothes. In 1915 thirty-two men from a factory in Reddish were fined for striking without going to the Board of Trade for arbitration first. The blackout imposed from March that year was enormously unpopular, since there was a view that it turned canals and rivers into death traps. There was a general fall in crime, with the exception, strangely enough, of bigamy. By early 1918, the food shortages were so bad that there were rumours that Britain might be forced to end the war in order to avoid starvation.

Even the capitalist press could not entirely whitewash the grim nature of the fighting. The first list of local men wounded appeared on 5 September 1914. During the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, the headlines in the Manchester Evening News went in a week from ‘Kitchener’s Boys: New Armies Make Good’ to ‘Heavy Toll of the City Units’.

Anti-war protest was difficult, since meetings and demos were often either banned by the police or broken up by the so-called British Workers’ League. Plenty of people appealed against being conscripted, on various grounds. O’Neill writes that appellants were generally excused combat service if they were ‘resolute and reasonably articulate’, though he gives no evidence or statistics to support this (one major weakness of the book is that it has no notes, references or bibliography, making it impossible to know the source of any of the statements made).

O’Neill says that by the end of 1915 Manchester was ‘totally given over to war’, and that more than any other city it was ‘transformed by the war’. The 22,000 men from Manchester and Salford killed in fighting for the interests of their rulers certainly had their lives more than transformed. 
Paul Bennett

What about Marx? (2014)

Book Review from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market–Based Society’, By Paul Verhaeghe. Scribe.

This book, written by a Belgian academic and translated from the Dutch, is fundamentally an attack on ‘neo-liberalism’. He sees it as psychologically extremely destructive and socialists would concur with his withering critique. The great problem is that without any political understanding (which Marx would have provided) he sees this ideology as something new rather than merely the latest propaganda that seeks to justify the continuation of capitalism. One is tempted to think that his scorn is generated (as he indicates) by the penetration of the ideology into his own realm of teaching and psychotherapy ; industrial workers might say, with some justification: ‘welcome to our world’.

With its attempt to measure everything and so turn quality into quantity capitalism famously knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Another flaw in Verhaeghe’s analysis is the contention that human identity is wholly dependent on the relationship with parents who represent moral and ethical values. Socialists would contend that man’s relationship with nature through his desire to constructively change it (his or her work) is fundamental to all human identity and its absence in capitalism is the real genesis of alienation. Verhaeghe has not understood that working to make profits for the parasite class is fundamental to capitalism and as such can never offer mankind the kind of meaningful fulfilling work that he advocates. And so he joins the countless other critics who want to reform the system without really understanding it. His dismisses socialism which conflates with the leftist regimes of the past.

Verhaeghe’s knowledge of Freud is extensive (as one would expect) but it does serve as a warning that a purely psychological approach to mankind’s travails can be very misguided. The work of Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse is infinitely superior to this short book because, although dealing with the same subject, the political knowledge expressed is on a par with their psychological understanding. With the exception of one passing reference to Theodore Adorno the author would seem oblivious to the work of the Frankfurt School. This is very odd since they were focused on the very same subject of the book.

Unfortunately the author of this book has no political weaponry with which to destroy  the system that he so clearly despises.
Wez.

Voice From the Back: Chinese Hypocrisy (2014)

The Voice From the Back column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chinese Hypocrisy                                                             
Wealthy Chinese tourists are splashing out up to £100,000 on hunting trips to Scotland, so they can feel like Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham. Inspired by the ITV series, hunting parties from China are hiring out castles with butlers and staff included so they can try their hand at bagging some of the biggest game roaming the countryside. ‘Among those visiting is Jack Ma, one of China’s richest men. He recently hired out Aldourie Castle near Loch Ness for £36,000. Mr Ma spent a week with 11 friends on the 500 acre estate, also hiring staff including a butler and cook’ (Daily Mail, 11 August). Mr Ma is reckoned to have a fortune of over £6 billion. Oh, by the way the Chinese government claims they have communism in China!


Class Contempt                                                 
It is always interesting to know what the owning class think about the working class and Michael O’Leary the outspoken CEO of Ryanair makes no secret of his contempt. ‘MBA students come out with “My staff is my most important asset”. Bullshit. Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy bastards who need a kick up the backside’ (Times, 16 August). This contempt is staggering when all the owning class’s profits including Mr O’Leary’s are the result of the exploitation of the working class.


Getting Away With It                                           
Britain’s top executives are now paid 143 times the wages of an average employee, according to a study. Executive salaries have increased dramatically in relation to most workers, said the High Pay Centre. ‘The think tank has called on the Government to act after it found that in 1998 the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 was paid 47 times the pay of their average employee. The Centre’s director Deborah Hargreaves said: ’Britain’s executives have not got so much better over the past two decades. The only reason why their pay has increased so rapidly compared to their employees is that they are able to get away with it’ (Daily Express, 18 August). So much for the notion that there is some sort of morality behind the jungle warfare of the wages and profit system.


Recovery For Whom?                                        
The press and TV are lauding the government for what they are describing as an economic recovery, but what has been a period of boom for the capitalist class has seen a worsening of conditions for many wage earners. ‘The cost of borrowing will increase before workers benefit from a real rise in their wages, the governor of the Bank of England said yesterday. Mark Carney said that interest rates were likely to rise from their record low of 0.5 per cent in the  spring of next year, possibly before the general election in May’ (Times, 10 September). He went on to say to the TUC in Liverpool that inflation-proof wage increases would not arrive until the following summer, indicating a financial squeeze on homeowners with mortgages.


The Drive For Profits                                          
All sorts of well-meaning organisations exist in efforts to stop the deforestation of the Amazon basis, the melting of the Arctic region and other examples of how capitalism worsens the environment. Alas they are doomed to failure. ‘The rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has increased for a second year running. Brazilian government figures show deforestation was up by 29% in the 12 months up to the end of July 2013. Satellite data showed that almost 6,000 sq km (2,315 sq miles) of forest were cleared during that period’ (BBC News, 11 September). In its ruthless drive for profit capitalism cares little about the environment.


A Crazy System                                                 
It was just a short article in the daily press but it sums up what a crazy system capitalism really is. ‘A treasure trove of art, jewellery and other valuables from the estate of the reclusive heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon will go on sale at auction following  her death earlier this year at the age of 103.  Experts invited to assess her collection at her country home of Oak Spring Farms, in Upperville, Virginia, were stunned at the scale of the riches she had amassed, including little-seen Picassos and Van Goghs, personalised Chanel handbags and even a vintage 1950s fire engine’ (Sunday Telegraph, 14 September). Mellon never worked for this fortune, she inherited her vast wealth from her grandfather. It is estimated that her fortune is probably worth about $100 million although countless hard-working people are trying to survive on less than $2 a day.






Letters: Scotch Myth? (2014)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scotch Myth?

Dear Editors

Regrettably ‘Myths of Scottish Nationalism’ (Socialist Standard, August) ended on a low note as no matter how flawed nationalism is, it is not responsible for the prevailing opinion that the Covenanters were freedom fighters. It is a widely held view.

The current SNP would be strange bedfellows with a Covenanting movement, as according to Professor Alan MacInnes the Covenanters had a radical view of Britain that was federal and constitutional.

The article commented on the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, omitting that the majority of Covenanters there made public declaration that they wanted a free General Assembly and free Parliament. The monument to the battle, which was erected by public subscription, is quite clear that the Covenanters stood for Civil and Religious Liberty.

What resulted from the sacrifice and sufferings of so many ordinary Scots and others was not an inquisition but a democratic Church that was acceptable to the majority, a free Parliament and a Bill of Rights that gave us liberties and freedoms much in advance of the rest of Europe. These were the foundations on which our democracy has evolved. That Bill of Rights was a foundation stone for the evolution of our European Human Rights, which ensures liberty of expression and assembly for minority political and religious groups. Fortunately history shows that totalitarian systems are doomed to failure be it long or short term.

David Bryce, 
Hamilton.


Reply:
The purpose of the series was to demonstrate that a Scottish national history is invented and the image presented of the Covenanter movement is one such an example. The Covenanter Movement was not a unified movement and was riven by schisms, not unlike the current Islamic Movement but, for sure, the article was not making the claim that the SNP’s and its nationalism are the legitimate heirs to the Covenanters. It is possible to argue that the details of the 1707 Union fulfilled much of the Covenanter demands and ended any future of the Scottish Kirk being the base for radicalism, its low point, a call for the deportation of Irish catholic immigrants during the 1930s.

As the article acknowledged, there are many who argue that the Covenanters were progressive and revolutionary but by no means is it a universal endorsement, as you would seem to suggest. Gerard Cairns on the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement website, arguing from a ‘catholic gael’ perspective, could write:
  It may seem very Marxist to argue that the Covenanters were class warriors, a mass movement against an absolutist regime. That really would be an example of the mechanical Marxism which tries to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Can we really turn bigots into revolutionaries? …A movement from below led by pedagogues on high who wanted a monolithic Scotland and/or Britain based on Presbyterianism. Everything else was secondary. (LINK
  ‘Whereas, Allan Armstrong on the Republican Communist Network website, considers the Cameronian wing of the Covenanters as a proto-Red Army’ (LINK)
Alistair Livingston, however, writes more objectively of this period:
  In Scotland Charles I managed to piss off both the nobility, who had gained huge chunks of church lands – by threatening to reclaim all previous ‘gifts’ of such lands, and the reformers, by trying to re-impose what they saw as the ‘corrupt’ religious practices of Catholicism on the Reformed church. The result was an unholy alliance between landowners who wanted to hang on to the huge tracts of church land they had got their paws on and the religious types who wanted a spiritual reformation of Christianity. This unholy alliance led to a Holy Covenant between the people of Scotland and God. (There were two Covenants – a National one and a Solemn one)… The belief held by some Muslims that a ‘Godly state’ can be created is not some weird un-British aberration – it was a belief strongly held by thousands of Brits – Scottish and English in the 17th century and created a bloody and violent civil war in which tens of thousands died.’ (LINK)


Airbrushed

Dear Editors

On 12th July at Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) held a meeting titled ‘The only war which is worth fighting is the class war’. The subject was the First World War and at 8 minutes 21 seconds in, the speaker representing the CWO stated ‘I won’t go into the various British ones today but the only group – and it was a group rather than an organisation – that can claim to have had any real anti-war policy completely was the Socialist Labour Party’.

In Revolutionary Perspectives issue 4 (Journal of the CWO) dated Summer 2014, the article ‘Social Democracy, the First World War and the Working-class in Britain’ starting on page 14 discusses ‘The Response of Socialists in Britain’ even discussing the Socialist Labour Party (De Leonist) on page 18.

For all the CWO airbrushing of consistent SPGB opposition to the First World War, it is ironic the same CWO speaker once debated the SPGB accusing the SPGB of being ‘schooled in Stalinism’.

Jon D. White 
(by email)


Reply:
Strange indeed, and for two reasons. The first being the clear and principled opposition to the war from the SPGB (on the basis that it was a capitalist war and not in the slightest about the interests of the working class).  Second, the SLP was split into two factions, one pro-war, the other anti-war (with articles in their paper The Socialist reflecting this division at the start of the conflict). It was only some months into the war that the anti-war faction won out and the SLP clearly stated its opposition to the slaughter. We know that the CWO as ‘left communists’ venerate the SLP because after the conflict the majority of its membership left to join the pro-Bolshevik Communist Party of Great Britain at its foundation, but the SLP’s attitude to the war has been well documented and there is no excuse for such shoddy historical revisionism. – Editors.

Capitalism Can Never be Made to Work for Us (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every election is the same. Your vote is needed to clear up the present issue of the day and the party asking for it is the only party who can sort it out.

But for all the promises nothing ever gets better. Nothing ever gets resolved. The solution isn’t around the corner. This has gone on for ages. The political parties are like someone trying to clean a window with a dirty  cloth and rather than swap it for a new one they harangue each other about how they use it.

The Conservatives see nothing wrong with the dirty cloth, all that we need for a brighter British window is to apply it more firmly, roll up our sleeves and try a little harder. UKIP see nothing wrong with the dirty cloth either, but feel its use should be guided by a purely British hand. Labour is appalled! Labour feels that by wringing out the cloth and changing how it’s applied will lead to a fairer, more prosperous window. The Left feels this doesn’t go far enough, only by cleansing the cloth and a complete reorganisation of how the window is scrubbed will do. Of course, the BNP couldn’t care less about the state of the cloth, only what colour it allows the window to become.

No matter who takes charge the vision of the future remains dull, there is only so much that can be done with a dirty cloth.

The Socialist Party challenges all other parties because it knows that capitalism can only be run in the interest of the few. For us the question isn’t whether it’s in the nation’s interest to stay in, or out, of the EU. It’s whether the nation’s interests and the people’s interests are the same. The answer is no.

The Socialist Party is part of the World Socialist Movement. For 110 years we have organised without leaders practising real democracy. Our goal is not to run capitalism for you in the interest of individual nations. Our goal is to unite the people of the world so that we, the people, can run it in the interest of ourselves.

We will not stand for starvation in a world that can feed everyone more than adequately. We will not see those who work and create the wealth struggle while those who manipulate thrive. We will not see the environment destroyed in the name of profits. We will not see honest, hard working people turned against each other in war to serve a minority’s interests.
Sean Deegan

Gullibility: Any Known Cure? (2014)

The Halo Halo! column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

As this is being written (a few weeks before publication) the number of known deaths due to the West African Ebola outbreak – for which there is, as yet, no known cure has passed the 1,400 mark. The number of infections is put at over 2,600 although many more are suspected to be going undetected. By the time you read it the statistics will be much worse.

Unless, of course, in the meantime God steps in with a miracle to sort it out – which, presumably, he could if he wanted to. He did, after all, in the case of Dr Kent Brantly. Brantly, an American medical missionary working in Liberia is one of the fortunate ones who, after contacting the disease, made a full recovery. ‘God saved my life’ he assured a press conference after being released from hospital.

The way God did this, it seems, is by arranging for Brantly to be one of the first to receive the very scarce and experimental serum known as Zmapp, and whisking him back to a modern hospital in the US where he received another dose, and the best possible medical care available. 

How effective the Zmapp was in his cure we can only guess at this stage, or what Dr Brantly’s views of it are, but he is in no doubt that it was God who saved his life. Why did God single out Dr Brantly to be saved, we might wonder? Why didn’t he carry out a similar miracle for some, at least, of the other 1,400 victims, including many other committed medical volunteers? Why was it necessary for God to allow the outbreak to occur in the first place? Maybe Dr Brantly knows the answer to these questions, maybe he doesn’t, but of one thing he is absolutely certain. ‘God saved my life’.

To assist God in carrying out further miracles of this sort another, more unorthodox, treatment for Ebola has been prescribed by ‘Prophet’ T B Joshua, one of Nigeria’s five wealthiest preachers. Prophet Joshua, whose fortune has been estimated at between 10 and 15 million dollars byForbes magazine (although that sum is dwarfed by others on the list), has flown 4,000 bottles of his amazing ‘holy anointing water’ to Sierra Leone for use in treating the Ebola virus.

This magical water which is produced at his church’s headquarters is obviously potent stuff. It is more usually taken among his followers for the treatment of such complaints as barrenness, cancer, paralysis and the AIDS virus, although one even confirms that whilst being attacked in his car one night by ten armed bandits his car suddenly became bulletproof and he was saved. You’d give a fortune to get your hands on a bottle of that wouldn’t you? Well, some people obviously do.

‘By using the anointing water, you are symbolically setting yourself apart for Jesus Christ’s special attention as you pray in faith’ he says. ‘I mean, you are positioned for mercy, favour, healing, deliverance blessing, prosperity and fruitfulness’. And it sounds good, you must admit, especially the ‘prosperity and fruitfulness’ bit.

However, there may be a snag. It’s guaranteed to work of course – as long as you ‘pray in faith’, but as with all religious guarantees, if the punter doesn’t have the required amount of faith – well, that could bugger the whole miracle up.

And it’s even been suggested by some, who obviously have nowhere near enough faith in Joshua and his Jesus juice, that it is simply salt water. Obviously this is an outrageous slur. No multi-millionaire preacher would ever carry out such a scam would they?

Hopefully he does provide full instructions for use with the magic liquid though. You obviously need to know whether to drink it or pour it into your car’s radiator. It’s all very well making your old banger bulletproof, but if it’s saltwater you’re pouring in, it could corrode the cooling system internals and make it leak like a bloody sieve. Not exactly the kind of holiness you want in your radiator.
NW

50 Years Ago: Tweedledee or ‘dum (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 1964 General Election, as in those of the past, the capitalist political parties have encouraged us to believe that fundamental issues are at stake.

This is far from the truth. The Labour and Conservative Parties are argue over trifles—the fight between them is sham. On the vital issues of the day are one.

This is reflected in many ways. It is reflected in the basic agreement in the parties’ policies. It is reflected in the fact that, although each side presents its leader as a paragon of honesty, knowledge and strength, none of them take the fundamentally different stand of opposing leadership in principle.

Home or Wilson? Landed aristocrat or Grammar schoolboy made good? Amiable elegance or rumpled, chubby purpose? The voters are asked to make their choice between these two representatives of capitalism, on the assumption that leaders are necessary, because without them we poor dunderheads would lose our way in the treacherous maze of the wicked world.

It is not difficult to penetrate this sham. The most casual investigation of leaders past and present reveals them as hard, cynical men dedicated to the ruthless administration of the capitalist system. It also shows up the game of leadership as a dirty business.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home has recently joined in the game for whatever advantage his party can get out of it. On the other side Harold Wilson has shown that a leader’s most valuable asset is a cold, professional determination.

It is no coincidence, and not entirely due to the General Election, that since Wilson became leader the Labour Party has kept its splits plastered over. So smooth has his political handling been that his public relations men are trying now to dispel the image of him as too clever, as the cocksure, calculating political climber.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1964)

Ripping off the Patient (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The president of the Zambia Medical Association Dr Munjajati recently revealed that the current health delivery system in the country cannot protect patients seeking private medical attention from flagrant overcharging. His remarks tend to highlight the fact that Zambia has a two-tier health system within public hospitals. Fee-paying hospital wards were introduced in 1980 by the UNIP government of Dr Kaunda. Those with enough money could be hospitalized in fee-paying wards in order to receive proper medical treatment .

The reluctance of the current Patriotic Front government to boldly check and regulate the operations of privately-owned hospitals and clinics is because to do so would be against the government’s policy of economic liberalization. Private health care is encouraged in the belief that an increased role for entrepreneurs and competition in the delivery of healthcare will result in a more efficient and effective healthcare system. Thus the search for financial gain determines the quality of healthcare systems. But the values of free enterprises and the economic benefits that may flow from a more efficient healthcare system can only be achieved at the cost of other and more important values – including a concern for fairness, the dignity of people and community-centred ethics that places people before profits.

Caring or looking after the sick is a calling of special dignity and importance. The striking nurses were dismissed by the Labour Minister in 2013 on the allegation that they had failed to uphold the oath of allegiance they swore when they graduated from Health College – to serve others out of compassion. To go on strike for reasons of salary increments was anathema to the values that guide governments and their civil servants. This is the oath to serve the people out of love and compassion, without regard to the standard of prevailing salaries and poor conditions of service. In that case, by the same standard, it would be the task of every government to make access to healthcare as free as possible. But they don’t.

There are relatively small amounts of legislation regulating the operations of health facilities compared to laws governing health personnel. The existing legislation regulating the operations of both private and public health hospitals was introduced by President Michael Sata when he was minister of health. In 2002 the MMD government went on to introduce consultation and medical fees in both public hospitals and clinics. Economic liberalisation entailed the acceptance of the lurid fact that free health care and education was a cost to the government. Hospitals, schools and colleges were de-centralised under health and education boards.

Under the system of private healthcare, the opportunities for ripping off patients seems endless. There is nothing in place to regulate the prices that are charged by service providers and hence the price differences in goods and services from one private health provider to another. Grading of private health facilities does not exist on the ground due to the salient professional ethic surrounding medicine. Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and the mystery surrounding the disease and its causes, Zambia has seen a proliferation of traditional herbal therapies and traditional healers. It is not illegal in Zambia today to sell and advertise traditional herbal medicines that have not even undergone a laboratory scrutiny.

The introduction of free male circumcision in public hospitals emphasises that lack of a regulatory framework. The public health system exists in a state of corruption. Private surgeries are stocked with medicines siphoned from public hospitals. There is no treatment protocol and this results in over-servicing; a private doctor will prescribe ten supplementary drugs for the sake of advertising his business. Most private hospitals are under the control of lay managers whose primary interest is to make a profit. Thus under the system of private health care doctors promote profit-producing drugs, surgeries and tests. Medical treatments and counselling that lack profit potential are discouraged. The commercialization of private healthcare has led to the abandonment of human virtues that are essential for a community – caring for old people, compassion and charity, especially for the less privileged members of the community.

The zeal and altruism that is displayed by doctors and nurses in their primary concern for the alleviation of pain and sickness has been hijacked by the profit motive. Indeed the prevailing ideology says that political states or governments have a duty to protect the interests of the citizenry, through providing them with law, security and healthcare. But the provision of healthcare under capitalism is hamstrung by the principle of free enterprise with its competition and profit. The income and wealth disparities between the working and capitalist classes translate themselves into standardized economic, political and social programmes. The vision of free healthcare, and other services cannot obtain under a capitalist state. It is only in socialist society that health care will be characterized by its capacity to serve the good of every member of society. The sense of responsibility by those engaging in providing free medical care will demonstrate the individual and social virtues necessary for the wellbeing of a classless, moneyless and stateless society – socialism.
Kephas Mulenga