The Caught In The Act Column from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
John Major is famous for being the nicest of nice guys so naturally his motives in timing the general election for April 9 were the purest of the pure. It was. he said, the "right time", the people wanted an election and of course "we will win the election . . . with a working majority."
It is not clear whether Major was suffering from the delusion that there were crowds swirling around the gates of Downing Street, clamouring to be allowed to choose between the Labour and Tory methods of trying to organise British capitalism. Nor was it clear whether he had forgotten that his announcement of the date came the day after the Budget, which was supposed to be so attractive to the voters that they would insist on showing their gratitude to Major and Norman Lamont by returning them in a general election as soon as possible. In the event the announcement of polling day effectively removed the Budget from the headlines.
But docs anyone, anywhere, really believe Major when he says that April 9 was the right date because that was what the people wanted? Doesn't everyone understand that the timing was motivated by the desire to get the biggest possible vote. And doesn't the fact that Major, like all the other leaders before him, plays the election timing game, expose the myth that the Nice Guy is better than the Nasty One?
Nice Guys, as they say. usually come second and Major, when all is said and done, is a politician which means that coming second doesn't interest him. After all.,what will happen to him if the Tories lose? It can't have been entirely coincidental that immediately after the election has been called the media were speculating on his likely successor. Naturally Michael Heseltine was involved in this, declaring bashfully that he had no intention other than giving Major the kind of support, that football managers get from their chairman just before they arc fired.
None of this was calculated to comfort Major, who recently told the Tory conference that he likes being Prime Minister and intends to stay in the job. Depending on the election result, there will be a few other people with a say in that.
Of course Major got a lot of advice on the best dale for the election, some of it from Norman Lamont the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now Lamont has the vital job of keeping control of the economy of British capitalism so that it runs as he wants it to. This sounds very impressive except that Chancellors probably spend as much time complaining that the economy is out of their control as they spend celebrating that it is behaving as they want.
According to press reports Lamont was pressing Major to postpone the election until May. His reason was that the brilliant remedies he was applying to the recession and the other current problems of British capitalism would need a little longer to take full effect. By May their effectiveness would be plain for all to see and the voters would gratefully and dutifully return a Tory government and Lamont's job in the Treasury would be rather more secure than the three million-odd people on the dole.
The snag is that Lamont's true claim to fame is his persistent inability to get his economic forecasts right — or rather to have the luck to do so. If Major had had any sense Lamont's advice to wait should have persuaded him to call the election as soon as possible, because as things are if Lamont says the situation is going to improve it's a fair bet that it's about to get worse.
Lamont’s style of assessing economic trends is not new. He is liable to interpret a slowing in the rate of increase in unemployment as evidence that unemployment is actually falling. He is also liable to assume that his forecasts are so reliable that industry and commerce can behave as if what was forecast has actually happened.
None of this deters Lamont from forging on, through the exposure of his bufoonery and his blunders, with even more assessments and predictions. There is only one way of taking him seriously — as the embodiment of capitalism's chaos, immune to the conceits of its politicians.
Of all the MPs who will not be seen again in the Commons, because they are retiring, none will be missed more than Alan Clark, the Honourable Member for Plymouth Sutton, son of the famous art historian Lord Clark, millionaire owner of the splendid Seltwood Castle in Kent (and much more), disdainful racist and sexist bigot.
Clark made a name for himself through a succession of what may have been interpreted as indiscreet statements. Nobody seemed to consider whether what he had said was really perfectly discreet, in the sense that he was showing his boundless contempt for anyone whose skin is black, or whose sex is female or who is a member of the working class. Even his apparent disparagement of his old school had this edge to it. Only someone rich enough to have been a pupil there could afford to say that "Eton was a very useful lesson in human cruelly and deceit"
The same can be said about his sneer at those who, because they have to work for their living, were gullible to the Thatcherite dream of a land populated by mortgages: "It's not that one wasn’t scared of losing one's jobs, but at least one wasn’t scared of not being able to pay the, er, what’s it? . . . Yes, that's it, the mortgage!"
It is impossible to feel anything other than anger and contempt for his supposedly jocular — but actually bigoted and insulting — wish to send black people ". . . all back to Bongo Bongo Land" and for the arrogant sexism in his mock concession "I now realise that women can do all jobs better than men, except butchery and coal mining". This might have been a little more impressive if Clark had had the slightest acquaintance with butchery and mining as jobs.
His career — if that was what it was — in politics has yielded a rich harvest of such boorishness, yet there is this to be said for him. At a time when the Conservative Party is led by someone who thinks that capitalism can be a classless society it is not simply provocative to have a politician like Clark, who glories in the reality that this is a class-divided society of rich and poor, in which millions must be exploited and repressed. A politician who knows which side of the class division he is on and makes no secret of his resolve to stay there.
So that's alright then. We know where we stand; we should also know what to do about it.
From the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
You are a young person, still at school or, perhaps, in a job-training scheme. As a rule, even with an election in the offing. political parties are not yet interested in you because you are not old enough to vote. Until then . . . well, it is generally assumed that you are not old enough to have any significant opinions of your own. Your parents, your teachers, clergymen and all the rest of the respected and respectable people you come in contact with will organise your thinking for you.
A lot of people will be critical of us for daring to intrude on your political innocence. It’s not really the done thing?! We will be accused of trying to take advantage of the young; of trying to indoctrinate you before you are mentally equipped to defend yourself.
Yet, if you look back at your training and education so far, you might reach the conclusion that you have been subjected to the most rigorous indoctrination and brainwashing since shortly after you were born.
All the ideas you hold, ideas about behaviour, about religion, about politics, about leaders and leadership, about "your" country, about the totality of ideas and concepts that are moulding you into the same general type of social being as your parents, have been steadily infused into your consciousness since since before you remember.
The ideas and beliefs with which you have been conditioned might be good or bad or a combination of both. The fact is, however, that you are fed these ideas as absolute truths. They have been instilled into your consciousness in such a way as to form barricades against the intrusion of new ideas and new concepts that might possibly change your perspective on life and the way it is organised at present.
In fact, you have been programmed to reject any form of information or knowledge which might threaten the interests of those who have determined your conditioning.
A very simple test will demonstrate this. You are asked if you think it would be possible to have a world where money did not exist, where people would co-operatively produce all the things they need and require and simply take these things as and when they wanted them.
What is your reaction to such a proposal? Everything you have learnt from when you were a baby militates against such a proposal. You have been trained, educated and conditioned to think in terms of ownership, of possessions, of employment, of working for wages or salaries, of money and buying-and-selling. of greed and laziness. You reject the proposition out of hand with the same intellectual arrogance that our forbears might have shown when it was suggested that the Earth might not be flat!
The fact is that whatever spirit of enquiry is, or was, encouraged in you as a student is restricted to the requirements and the accepted pattern of society as it is now. You question the basis of the world you live in at your peril. At the risk of the wrath of parents, teachers and friends and, later—well, no employer will lack suspicion for someone who challenges the social "morality” of the way he or she gets their living.
To question, to challenge, to think outside the parameters established in your programming, can be dangerous. The question is whether it is even more dangerous to become one of the undignified band of Accepters Anonymous who accept without question things as they are now— with all the very real dangers that ‘things as they are now’ entail for your future.
It is not our purpose to try to indoctrinate you. We reject the idea of leadership—something you have been taught to accept—and are not, therefore, interested in indoctrinating people to play the role of sheep. We do have very positive ideas about the source of the major problems that confront society; problems like poverty, insecurity, slums, violence, world hunger, war, but we do not intend to expand on these things in this short article.
Instead, we would like to ask you some questions. These questions are about the world we live in; they are about the problems that probably affected the lives of your parents and grandparents. The problems that, almost certainly, will have a marked bearing on your future unless you, and those like you. take active and urgent steps to abolish their cause.
Of the many questions we could ask, we will confine ourselves to the following. If you would like to send us your answers we will be pleased to comment on them. If you would like to receive our answers, we will be pleased to send them to you.
QUESTION 1 Governments of different political parties, Tory, Liberal or Labour, governments of the Right, the Left and the Centre, come and go in different countries. But all the basic problems remain despite the fact that political parties achieve power on the basis of their electoral claims to be able to solve these problems. Why is this?
QUESTION 2 In this country—indeed, throughout all countries—homelessness and slum dwelling is a permanent feature of life. At the same time, there are vast numbers of workers, skilled in the various aspects of building construction. Why are building and construction workers idle when millions of people desperately need decent homes?
QUESTION 3 In every country poverty, in one or more of its many forms, exists. Some 15 million children (averaging about 42,000 every single day) die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases. At the same time, massive amounts of foodstuffs are dumped or stored—much of it until it goes rotten—and governments deliberately restrict food production. Why do you think this is?
These are just a few of the questions that might be asked about the contradictions that exist in this country and throughout the world. As you approach the time when you will have the power of your vote to endorse things as they are or bring about real change, we think it is important for you to address these questions.
In seeking answers, we would suggest that you ask questions. Ask your parents and teachers, ask clergymen, write to the Member who is supposed to represent you in Parliament and, of course, write to the leaders of the political parties. In the next issue of the Socialist Standard we will give you our answers to the questions we have posed.
And, of course, we will be happy to publish and comment on the answers you receive to our questions, especially those answers from political leaders, clerics and such others as feel competent to guide your thinking. They could make lively reading.
Party News from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
At the time of going to press the amount standing in our Election Fund was £1831.30, which means that by now we should have attained our target of £2000. The money collected will be used to pay for the renting of committee rooms, 45,000 copies of the election manifesto (mainly for free distribution by the Post Office), 5000 posters, stickers and leaflets, 1000 extra copies of this issue of the Socialist Standard and the candidate's deposit.
We express our thanks to our readers who contributed and will publish a detailed breakdown of how the money was spent in a subsequent issue.
Further details on the election campaign can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Letters to the Editors from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Congratulations on the article “The Tragedy of the Commons” (February). I am not aware that it has been dealt with before in the Socialist Standard yet it was a frontal assault on the whole idea of a propertyless society. As Robin Cox points out, the argument was an anachronistic howler. It tried to examine hypothetical medieval situations in bourgeois terms.
Hardin’s viewpoint comes straight out of the 18th century Utilitarian theory of society as a rabble, a collection of individuals. While society itself is today under attack from capitalism, it certainly meant something in the Middle Ages as it still means something in surviving pre-capitalist communities.
The Tragedy of the Commons can be faulted on three grounds. leaving out econobabble:
Medieval society was structured—everybody knew their place in the village, there was no free-for-all.
The idea of producing a surplus for its own sake, beyond that to cover bad harvests and to exchange for iron ploughshares and blue ribbons, did not occur to anybody, as Werner Sombart pointed out.
Even if it had, there were no means of storing it, i.e. money, and market to dispose of it in the form of cattle or corn.
Medieval life was integrated, even if it did include the pimp in the Manor House. Co-operation ran from barn-raising to clubbing together to make a plough-team of oxen. If Little Boy Blue and The Boy Who Looks After The Sheep were falling down on the job, there was more than one villager to kick their arse.
References to American rangeland, Argentine pampas or Siberian steppe are unhelpful. The American Indians and Mongol herders never had any problem. There is even talk of handing back the West to the buffalo because of problems with soil and water.
May Hill, Glos
I did not state in my letter in the March issue that overpopulation is the cause of pollution, resource depletion and environmental degradation. I agree with you that the capitalist system with its profit motive is the main culprit. I mentioned the probable doubling of population as something that a socialist society would have to take into account when planning production.
Sorry to have misrepresented your views. We will return to the subject of cars and pollution in the special issue we will be bringing out in June to co-incide with the so-called Earth Summit in Brazil that month.
Book Review from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Megatrends 2000. By John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene. Pan. £5.99.
Capitalism needs to have some idea of future trends and developments, if only to keep the profits coming in by anticipating changed market conditions. While often tacitly aware of the unplannability of the system, the bosses and politicians would greatly appreciate a preview of what society will be like in 10 or 20 years' time. It is in response to this need that the discipline of futurology, a pretentious mixture of sociology, politics and economics, has arisen. Naisbitt and Aburdene (described on the back cover as “the world's leading social forecasters”) have made their contribution by trying to identify ten major trends of the 1990s.
The authors begin by acknowledging something that socialists have been saying for years: that there is a single world economy rather than lots of national economics trading with each other. Other than this, though, their views turn out to be a mixture of the obvious and the ignorant. It is not very surprising to be told that over the next decade the state capitalism of eastern Europe (which the authors, of course, misname “socialism”) will be replaced by a market economy, that Japan will become the major economic and cultural power, that there will be more women at the top of politics and business, or that the welfare state will contract. On the other hand, it is extremly surprising to learn that the 1990s will be "a period of economic prosperity", when, in fact, the decade has opened with a recession.
In others ways, too, the lag between writing and publication has embarrassed the authors and shown the foolishness of predicting events under capitalism. Parts of the book read like a hymn to Margaret Thatcher, who has apparently changed the direction which Britain was travelling and “hit a chord with the British people”.
Further evidence that the authors know very little of past and present, to say nothing of the future, is easy to find. For instance, they claim that the cause of poverty is “failure to create families". So single mothers can escape destitution by the simple expedient of finding a husband! This is a neat reversal of the old game of blaming poverty on the poor having too many children. We read, too, that economic prosperity will put an end to war, since "wealth is a great peacemaker". But. as the Gulf War has shown, developed countries are quite prepared to go to war to defend their profits and wealth.
To be fair, Naisbitt and Aburdene do state that they have deliberately concentrated on positive trends, leaving others to stress the negative ones. But emphasizing the positive developments under capitalism means ignoring so much that the resultant picture is a complete travesty. Capitalism simply cannot function without the downside of wars, famines, slumps and oppression. To do away with these, whether by the year 2000 or not, requires Socialists, not social forecasters.
Party News from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
In an ocean of hollow rhetoric, hopeless promises and sickening humbug there is still one small voice of political sanity. You can help to make it louder. You can support the Socialist election campaign.
We have a candidate, Richard Headicar, who is standing in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency in London. Our campaign is not just to win votes, but to raise socialist consciousness. However large or small our final vote is. our work will be relentless in getting the case for real Socialism across to as many people as possible. We shall be delivering tens of thousands of socialist leaflets, distributing literature, putting up posters, holding street meetings and attending all events run by our opponents. Please call 071- 622-3811 for details of the campaign office telephone number and ways that you can help.
An eve-of-poll rally at Conway Hall is aimed to be a climax of our campaign. You are invited to be there—and bring along any interested friends, family or workmates. After the rally a more informal chance for socialist discussion will be organised in a room above a nearby pub.
Our political enemies say that we theorise too much. This campaign is a chance to show just how practically and visibly the socialist alternative of production for use can be presented to our fellow workers. The more of us there are the more credible the campaign will be. This party needs you now; don't let us down.
67 Chalton St, NW1 (Euston end). Open 10 am till 8pm.
The Between the Lines column from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Debate of the Decayed
On a recent visit to the House of Commons, collecting policies for his long-term research into the fossil record, your TV columnist happened to stumble upon three familiar-looking party leaders, each rehearsing speeches which mass TV audiences were never to hear. In the absence of the TV show-down which would have been as politically illuminating as One Man And His Dog (without the Man, and with ballot papers issued to the sheep), we here publish the texts of the speeches which were never made.
"Let me say at the outset that my government has nothing to offer you except more of the same. As you can see, this leads to enormous prosperity for everyone. If elected, I shall produce a Charter, to be placed on all bus shelters and town-hall lavatory doors, which will be signed by me so that nobody will dare to ignore it. It will promise that trains will run on time and
Prime Ministers will be honest — or else they will face a £200 fine, or a knighthood in the case of the Prime Minister. Above all, my worshipful followers, I remind you of my motto: If it isn't hurting it isn't working (based on an original idea by Harvey Proctor). I shall see to it that all NHS doctors be issued with framed parchments containing these comforting words. So, vote Conservative and don't be deceived by our opponents’ lies about poverty, unemployment, homelessness or beggars on the street, all of which are caricatures created by Channel Four documentary-makers".
The Future Lord Neil
"Your Majesty, Lords, Ladies, Very Rich People, moderate trade unionists and little old ladies — I appeal to you to vote for the party which you can feel safe with. You see, there are mud-spreaders around who want you to believe that capitalism will be unsafe in our hands. Just because it has been the case that we have been in government eight times and been clueless how to make the profit system run in the interest of the working class. Now we have the answer: we intend, without reservation or hesitation, to make the profit system run in the interest of the capitalist class.
We believe — and we ask you to believe — and furthermore, we ask that you believe that we believe — that only by bleeding the workers dry will this great country of ours be even greater.
To this end, we shall continue the policies of the Thatcher government (selling off council houses, building nuclear missiles, breaking the unions), but we promise that, unlike the wicked, woeful Tories, we shall sing The Red Flag at our conference each year while we are administering the legalised robbery of our dear brothers and sisters in the trade unions."
"I think . . . I think I think that my party is different from the others. We are different because . . . And secondly, we are in favour of a system of voting which will get more Liberals into the Commons bar. Moreover, I am an extremely butch commando and can speak Chinese. So vote for the Alliance . . . . I mean . . . "
Democracy is not served by sound-bite exchanges between Presidentially-styled leaders who are looking for sheep to fleece. TV debates are not the answer. If you are convinced of your case you will stand up on a public platform and put it before an audience that can answer back.
The Socialist Party wrote to the sitting MP for Holbom and St Pancras, Frank Dobson, weeks before the election was called, inviting him to debate in public. At the time of writing he has not even replied. He knows that there is a big difference between the TV election soap opera and the glare of a large audience who want to hear answers to their problems — and then want to answer the answers.
That we have been spared the Major-Kinnock-Ashdown slogan exchange is a small mercy; that they have been spared the harsh judgment of workers who regard them as being as inspiring as a repeat series of Crossroads is a delay which must be rectified.
The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
As far as the S. P. G. B. is concerned our attitude is the one we have always adopted. We are in favour of complete freedom of speech and publication for every point of view, that of our opponents as well as ourselves, but we cannot profess to be surprised that under war conditions the earlier restrictions should be greatly increased. It is a process inseparable from war and will probably result in still more restriction before the war is ended. (We notice in passing that quite a number of supporters of war do appear to be surprised: having apparently made the childish assumption that it is possible to wage war without having these necessary accompaniments of it.) While regretting that under these conditions it is not possible to publish all that we would wish to do on the war, we do not forget that the S. P. G. B. is not merely an anti-war organisation but a Socialist organisation. It is our duty as Socialists to state the case for socialism and while it is possible to continue to do useful work we shall continue, notwithstanding our enforced inability to state all that we would like to state.