Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Peace and plenty (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wherever you look in the world today you will see suffering. Last year 15 million children died for lack of money to buy food. Poverty and insecurity face the great majority of the human race. Yet about one in twenty people escape this misery. They belong to an exclusive international club which is more accurately defined as the capitalist class. It is not an easy club to join: and its members are able to enjoy their wealth and power and privilege by persuading the rest of us to remain their obedient servants.

These people are the owners of all the companies, land, oil wells, finance houses. They make their profit by employing us as workers to create wealth for them in the processes of production and distribution. They pay us wages or salaries which can never provide more than second-rate, insecure living standards, and leave nothing to save or accumulate while they continually re-invest the wealth we create to accumulate more and more for themselves. This class division between employers and workers is the cause of an unceasing struggle over wages, hours, working conditions, living conditions. This is the class struggle.

But there is also a perpetual struggle among the capitalists themselves. The competition between companies for profits, leading to the conflict between nation states for colonies, markets, raw materials — like oil. copper and uranium and control of trade routes — like Suez or the Gulf of Oman — or territory — like Palestine or Afghanistan — military bases — like Cyprus or Gibraltar — all these keep war going all the time at one or more places in the world. They cause the deaths of millions of us in struggles where we have nothing to gain. As workers we have no stake in the power or property of any nation.

For this reason, nationalisation is of no value to workers. If any state nationalises an industry, this only means that it is now owned by the whole capitalist class of that nation — but not the workers. The state is now the employer and exploiter — with all the forces of law and order at its disposal. Nationalisation on a large scale has often been called socialism. It has nothing to do with socialism — it is state capitalism, such as exists in Russia.

Socialism means producing wealth solely and directly for free use by all. All the resources and machinery for producing wealth will be taken into the hands of the community as a whole, and work will be organised through voluntary co-operation, not the economic force of the wages system. Society's principle will be: "from each according to ability, to each according to need".

In a socialist world there will be no war because its cause will have been removed. The ownership of society’s means of living by a privileged minority will be ended. The governments and states by which they legalise and enforce their ownership and control will be abolished. The armed nations into which they formed themselves and us, with their frontiers, passports, tariffs and fortifications, will cease to have any use: and people will cease to think of themselves as Britons, Germans, Italians, Israelis. Palestinians. Iranians. Russians or Americans. They will live and work and travel where they wish.

Marx said, "the workers have no country". "Workers of the world, unite". And we ask you to unite with us in the socialist movement for the emancipation of humanity from the chains of capitalism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain alone stands opposed to the Labour Party and all other parties which seek to reform the profit system — and so protect and keep it. We work to spread information among workers about the way capitalism operates, and the way in which the majority can remove it by establishing a socialist world of production for need.

50 Years Ago: Socialists and Free Discussion (1984)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It may perhaps be of some use to point out to those who are following methods that kill free discussion, that they are following in the path of their predecessors in Italy and Germany, and provoking the ogre they fear. The starting-point of the Fascist career in Italy was the seizure of the Italian factories by the workers and the propaganda of violence by the Communists. Germany tells a similar tale. It may be added that the country that gave them the lesson was Russia, and one of the principal defenders of Russian violence Trotsky — is now wandering about seeking an asylum — a victim of the methods he advocated.

It is only by free and open discussion that the workers can grasp the essentials of their present condition of servitude and the way to abolish it. Until they have this knowledge it matters little which of the capitalist parties they support.

While we are on the subject of “freedom of speech" we cannot help being surprised to find what curious, not to say, suspicious friends, this “freedom" has. We see among them the numerous organs of capitalism, which steadfastly decline to allow the publication in their columns of a statement of the Socialist case.
(From an editorial, Reason or Violence, Socialist Standard July 1934.)


The Great White Elephant (1958)

From the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Advertising In Modern Life
When they talk of the marvels of modern times and the loftier race that welfare reforms have brought to being, it is interesting to browse through the ads. in the papers and the television channel. Here, dress-suited prigs sit amid fake period furniture eulogizing cheap tinned soup; pasty youths sip their tonics and slick their hair in hopes of catching the boss's eye; fagged-out, rushed and noise-ridden people by the score swallow pellets and powders by the ton for the noise and rush to continue. Here, in fact, is as great an indictment as could be made of civilization in the mid-twentieth century.

Pure and simple, advertizing is salesmanship: convince the man and he buys your goods. In 1788, toothpaste makers were claiming that their stuff would "faften fuch as are loofe, keep fuch as are already decayed from becoming worfe, prevent the Tooth ach, perfectly cure the Scurvy in the Gums . . .  likewife render the Breath delicately fweet, and remedy all thofe diforders that are the confequence of fcorbutic Gums and bad Teeth." Sixty years ago the most popular soap powder was boosted as "possessing high detergent properties in a concentrated and effective form. Cleanses without injury to skin, fabric or texture."

It has long ceased to be as simple as that Then—years ago, a hundred and seventy years ago—you take it or leave it. Now, to leave it is impossible (except for the blind and the recluse). The advertizing man is no longer a huckster seeking new additions, one by one, to the satisfied buyers of Bloop. His aim is whole social groups, even whole generations, for whom life without Bloop would hurt or be shameful He is sociologist, psychologist, con-man, poet and maker of dreams, with nowhere private and nothing inviolate to him—not the innermost thought nor the smallest room.

There are a hundred means to this assault on social consciousness. Appealing to snobbery and prestige: it is smart to drink this, superior to smoke those. Linking prestige with pride in home or person: clean your home the modern way—and surely you don't still shave with the old soap-and-brush method? Evoking authority with tit-bits of pseudo-science, or vague references to clinical knowledge: the hair is a tube with roots, the intestines are twenty-six feet long, doctors and nurses know all about Blobbo.

The cornerstones of most advertising, however, are Fantasy and Fear. The strip-drawn advertisements for cosmetics, beauty soaps, beverages, and the rest, are explicit, deliberate fantasies of romance or success. In the best-known of them all the strips are peopled by an entire mythology of seemingly real characters: masterful executives, paragon wives and paternal fathers and, of course, the family doctor, benign and wise, sitting back recommending the hot drink that will send Henry bounding up the ladder of success. Or there is the fantasy in prose and a single picture, setting forth a desirable world with which buying some product will somehow put one in touch. Drink Crossbread's, and you commune with Old England, oak beams and dray horses; or Washington's, to be in spirit among the big-thighed footballers and six-hitting batsmen; open an account at the Lowland and enter the semi-detached realm of bowler hats and deference, chequebooks and U-conversations with the Manager.

And there are the sexual fantasies, the dreams of allure, enticement and capture. First shy glances drawn by white soap, first embraces made inoffensive by pink soap; erotic spells cast by shampoos, face creams and cheap perfumes with expensive names (Nuit dans l'Ecurie, one-and-three). Dreamiest, most voluptuous of all are the corset and underwear advertisements, with their Vie Parisienne pictures and their lyrical lore
“The line forms . . . in at your waist,
With a gentle lift of pride up there.
Dance Time, new summer guile . . .
With padded undercups,
And low-hugging Lastex round your back. . . ."
It is wrong to suppose, however, that the sales depend only on those who can share these fantasies. Equally, they set standards for the rest. For every girl who daydreams enslaving Fred by Gluggo, another girl fears the consequences of not using it The advertisements, in fact, make the consequences clear; before the happy ending to the strip a wise friend takes Jean aside and tells her why Fred avoids her.

This is one kind of fear played up by the ads.; fear of social or matrimonial failure. It hardly needs building- up, in a world of perpetual insecurity where most people know only too web that jobs and sweethearts are easily lost. There is fear of disgrace (someone isn’t using Pungo —see the offending noses wrinkle); fear of general inadequacy, of being talked about for remediable failings. This is the secret of the great soap-powder campaigns of recent years. In terms of competition, one may wonder how much is achieved by persuading housewives to change from Diz to Duz, particularly when both are produced by the same firm; but that isn't the real point The effect of seven years' competitive insistence that each soap powder washes whiter, adds brightness, is whitest of all, is whiter and brighter than white itself, has been to make whiteness a social value, something which no woman dare neglect for fear of censure and shame.

The strongest theme of all is fear of harm or deprivation to loved ones. Somebody's mum isn't using Gippo; somebody's baby girl has to ask if the jakes has been made safe for her with Fizz. The wake-up beverages play heavily on this, too; tiredness threatens a man's income just when his daughter has won her scholarship or his widowed mother looks to him for help. It is wrong to sneer at this kind of fear and say people shouldn’t be taken in by it. Nobody wants to be lonely or unpopular, still less to have his children deprived of companionship or opportunity. The advertisers find their material in natural, sensible feelings which are whipped into fears because our world is an insecure and frustrating place.

In a buying-and-selling society, the realm of advertising is unlimited. It goes far beyond the hoardings, the advertisement pages and the television commercials. Thus, in any woman's magazine, where half the space is taken up by advertisements, much of the remainder goes the same way:  fashion pages, beauty articles, stories grounded in the same dream-world as the adverts. The same applies for most magazines and papers. Holiday guides, technical pieces, the Christmas spirit; even the chit-chat about a personality may be, indirectly, advertisement of what he sells.

What are the effects of all this ? There is, of course, the known influence of advertisers on the Press. Large-circulation papers draw about half their revenue from advertisements, the smaller-circulation ones about two-thirds; half a page in the Daily Express costs £3,000. It would be surprising if newspapers did not defer to their advertisers' interests. Mainly the influence is indirect, a standing deterrent to certain kinds of criticism: "A newspaper that receives a large revenue from company prospectuses may have an unconscious bias in favour of our present financial system; and the paper carrying frequent advertisements of patent medicines may, without any conscious deviation from rectitude, give too little weight to the medical profession's views on such goods. A famous editor has, indeed, written unashamedly of 'such needless folly as putting the report of a fatal motor smash alongside of a motor advertisement'.” (“The Newspapers," Oxford Pamphlets on Home Affairs, 1944.)

Occasionally, more direct pressure has been brought to bear. An ex-editor of the Daily Herald stated that his paper’s policy during the Munich crisis was modified on account of the advertisers. In 1938, a British Medical Association advertisement, headed “Is All Milk Safe?” had to be modified to avoid prejudice to the milk industry’s campaign. In his American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard gives several instances of coercion by advertisers in the U.SA Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think (as some people seem to do) that newspapers would be substantially different without this influence; after all, the newspapers support capitalism and the advertisers are the capitalists.

The social effects of advertising go much further. Implicit in all of it is the commercialising of every human relationship: people are valued in terms of their possessions and buying habits, the dentifrice they use, the gleam of their shirts. In this world, as E. S. Turner remarks in his amusing Shocking History of Advertising, “loyalty means always buying the same hair oil. . . . A bride is not a young woman on the edge of a great adventure; she is a conditioned consumer, who, by buying the right cosmetics and the right brassiere has captured her man.'' A generation ago, How to Win Friends and Influence People was the salesman's obsession; now, it is the customer's.

Half-a-dozen minor revolutions in social consciousness—none of them making anyone better off—have been effected or assisted by advertising. The whiteness-phobia, the speed-craze, the conception of beauty and, newest of these, the odour-phobia. In recent times the deodorant business has extended its target from bad breath and strong perspiration to skin smells, cooking smells, “sudden smells" and vegetable smells. It seems on the cards, in fact, that in a few years all natural smells will have been outlawed and abolished, and nothing will be left except the scents of disinfectant and furniture polish. What is worth mentioning about the odour-ads. is that they are easily the lowest, nastiest and most objectionable of all advertisements at the moment (and that, by the way, is really saying something): where, one wonders, are the good taste and culture of which the capitalist class—and, no doubt, the artists and copywriters, too—has always claimed so much ?

The supreme social myth to-day, and the one which runs through all advertising of the last ten years is that of "standards of living.” Most symbolic of it, currently, is the cigarette advertisement which says "I'm raising my living standard" — by changing to a slightly dearer brand; though this writer's favourite is the television commercial where the woman spreads a margarine-and-paste tea for her family, standing in a five-hundred-pound kitchen. Perhaps the most explicit of all is the American advertisement (quoted by Colin McIver in The Anatomy of Advertising), which says
"I know my husband loves me.
"As surely as I know the sky is blue, that dreams come true, that to-day is my birthday . . .  that surely do I know my husband loves me.
"The soft gleam of our very own Gorham Sterling tells me he is thinking of me at wife, mother, hostess—dreaming and planning for our future together."
Modern advertising is the folklore (nursery rhymes and all—hear the children sing the ad.-men's jingles) of the "standards of living” age. It would be funny if it were not so tragic. While the success of a marriage is judged in Gorham-Sterling terms, the collapse of marriage is a major social problem; while people in to-day's hire-purchase paradise see themselves as far, far better off than ever before there are far, far more social difficulties than ever before. For all that has to be said about advertisements, the real criticism is of the society whose values and failures they reflect. Is there any substantial difference between the German general who said "Guns before butter ” and the rest of the world which puts commercial before human needs?

The only sensible way to organise society is for the satisfaction of human needs—that is, on the basis of ownership by everybody of the means of life and access for everybody to everything there is. No advertisements, of course, in such a world; only then, in fact, would the fine, rich wood of humanity flourish free from the dark, parasitic trees of commercialism.
Robert Barltrop

An Appeal For Donations (1958)

Party News from the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

During recent mouths the income of the Party has been below expenditure end in attempt is now being made to rectify the position.

Almost every item of the Party’s expenditure has increased, postage, stationery, rates. Hall hire, advertising, printing, and numerous other items have increased in cost. If we continue to spend at the present level with no appreciable increase in income, a serious position will arise in 1958.

Whilst there will be an increase in revenue from the increased price of the Socialist Standard, we shall not benefit from this for some months.

It is evident that we require monies for all activities, including indoor propaganda, Provincial propaganda tours, new pamphlets, advertising, and Parliamentary activity. As our sole income is from members and subscribers, it is again to you that we address our appeal for funds.

The present political situation and the innumerable problems of Capitalism have thrown a heavier responsibility on the Party. We must therefore always be in a position to maintain and enlarge our Organisation. Lack of funds severely hamper us, so please give what you can.

We are all looking forward to the time when appeals will be unnecessary; at the moment, however, they are very necessary. Donations should be sent to E. Lake, at 52, Clapham High Street, London, S.W.4.

That £75,000 "Pie in the Sky" (1958)

From the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
"And that inverted bowl we call the sky,  
Whereunder, crawling, coopt—we live and die, 
Lift not your hands to it for help, 
For it rolls impontently on, as thou or I.”
Of all the "carrots” that have been dangled before the credulous eyes of the working class (as a loophole for the individual escapologist from wage-slavery) the £75,000 Treble Chance Pools craze certainly takes the proverbial "biscuit.”

Look in any G.P.O. any Friday during the football season and the sight of the queues of budding entrepreneurs for emancipation, feverishly filling in coupons and buying endless postal drafts, is enough to gladden the heart of any government bondholder, let alone the Pools firm’s shareholders.

The giddy idea is to forecast eight draws in one column from about 54 matches—despite the odds against same being in the region of several millions to one.

Capitalism is certainly the gambling system par excellence—from the glittering casinos of Monte Carlo and the Riviera (to say nothing of the fashionable English, Continental and American race meetings) where patrons— drawn from the parasitical "elite” of the international capitalist class—"relieve” their ennui frittering away some of the "filthy lucre” filched from the international working class via the medium of the wages robbery system.

On the other hand, the small-town back-alley dog tracks or the slot-machine craze of Las Vegas, where the lure of the "Almighty Dollar” is too much for working class flesh and blood—writhing under a frustrating poverty-ridden system of society—to withstand.

Certainly a few may hit the "Jack Pot” and deliver themselves from bondage, but, for the vast majority, defeat is inevitable and the slough of despair under capitalism is a "bottomless pit.”

"Let Not Ambition Mock Their Useful Toil”
By and large, trying to emulate a Lipton or a Nuffield or to "Win the Pools” is merely a form of procrastination on the part of those who produce the wealth of the world and in whose hands lies the future welfare of society as a whole.

Instead of being "led up the garden path” by the "success” propagandists of capitalism or by the social bait of a chimerical £75,000 and allowing their life span to "slip through their fingers” struggling in comer shops, offices, mills, mines and factories, trying to get a foot on the proverbial "bottom rung’’—the workers of the world should "support” their own "horse,” which is entered in the "race” for their emancipation—the Socialist Party— which has a "ton” in hand of the “opposition” and with their class conscious support can achieve the Socialist Revolution.

As it is, the years roll on and capitalism is still our unwelcome companion, spreading the diseases of Nationalism, Commerce and Religion, together with the eternal "success” phantasy ad nauseum to ourselves and our children. Confusion enough when it comes to educating them for their real social responsibility—the organsation and achievement of Socialism. Be that as it may, the world organisation for Socialism, with 53 years' "spade” work behind it and equal to the task which lies ahead, will not be found wanting when the mighty organism of the world-wide working class shakes off its political confusion and sallies forth to claim its social heritage— a place in the Socialist “sun.”

Finally, and using Thoreau’s words—"As in the long run man only hits what he aims at, he better aim high" — let us make our “target” nothing short of revolutionary scientific Socialism, from which we can all reap a richer and socially more satisfying “harvest” than any improbable parasitical "successful entrepreneur” existence within the profit system.
G. R. Russell

Party News Briefs (1958)

Party News from the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hemel Hempstead.—Will all those members and sympathisers who live in the Hemel Hempstead area and who are interested in the formation of a group in the area, please communicate with: B. N. West, 44, Adeyfield Gardens, Hemel Hempstead.

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Propaganda.—At the termination of the Speakers' Classes, which have been held by the Propaganda Committee at Conway Hall, six of the twelve members are taking the Speakers' Test and, if successful, will add to the number of official Party speakers to the list and so enable the Propaganda Committee to extend their programme in 1958. The class was most successful and it is to be hoped that arrangements can be made in-the near future to run another series.

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Film at Head Office.—Although no meetings were held during the last three Sundays in December they will recommence this month, the first being held on January 5th. 

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Why the B.B.C. does not understand.—On 10th December the Overseas Department of the B.B.C. telephoned the S.P.G.B. and asked to speak to Mr. Gaitskell. When they were told that we are the Socialist Party, and Mr. Gaitskell has nothing to do with us, the clerk who was making the call was astonished. She did not know there is a Socialist Party that is not the Labour Party. If the B.B.C. had not refused for 20 years or more to let the S.P.G.B. put the Socialist case on the air, perhaps the B.B.C. staff would have known that there is a Socialist Party.

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Lewisham Branch.—We would like to draw attention to the notice of meetings organised by Lewisham Branch, published in another column. The meetings are held fortnightly on Monday evenings. It is hoped that members will attend and bring along sympathisers and make this venture a success.

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Islington Branch have taken over the arrangements for the Tower Hill lunch hour meetings each Thursday. Despite inclement weather, these meetings are being well attended and members who are in the vicinity should try to get along and support the meetings.

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“Socialist Standard.”—Each January a particular reference is made to the Annual Subscription form for the Standard. A form appears in this issue and it is to be hoped that readers will use this and ensure a regular delivery each month.

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Tottenham Branch Secretary writes that Comrade T. H. Fowler died in October last. Comrade Fowler was 80 years of age and joined the Party in 1913, regularly attending propaganda meetings and selling literature. He was always a willing helper in the canteen at Party Conferences and socials. Until earlier this year he was an enthusiastic worker. It is with regret that we learn of his death and extend sympathy to his relatives.

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Extract from letter from Comrade H. Wheatley, Nottingham :—
“My trade-union, the A.U.B.T.W. makes Free-card presentations on 50 years' membership, and myself being included this year, I screwed up pluck to seek permission to face an audience for the first time: a vote of thanks from the recipients really, a very few words; then used the Union-cards of 50 years ago and to-day as emblems of a deeper and broader outlook, hoping that also applied to each individual member; but 50 years was slow progress with results that still left them, fighting old battles repeatedly, pointed out the need to understand the present system, and then realising the identical interests of ALL workers, they must eventually see no reason for division

After much revision and cutting, I got through two closely packed pages of urging to look to the future (yes, I had to write it—managed better that way) and drew quite an embarrassing applause. Our leaflets were spread over a spare table, and on count just over 25 each were picked up.

Seeing I had avoided naming the "Party," I think it speaks volumes for our clear case, that an official should state he soon knew just where I was leading—The S.P.G.B.

The more hopeful side is the 30 or so of working Trade Unionists—and their wives—who probably never heard their position put this way before. An effort to follow up by a S.P.G.B. speaker to address their branch met with the usual coldness—they can’t get them in—just pay their dues and depart. This still in mind for further pressure."
Phyllis Howard

Letter: Are workers worse off? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. W. Jennings (Harringay) quotes from Marx's "Capital" the following passage (page 661, Glashier edition): -
 Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.
Mr. Jenning's asserts, without evidence, that the workers are getting better off and that "they do take a greater share of the wealth produced." On the strength of this he writes: "Perhaps, after all, Marx was not infallible.”

Marx was not infallible, but Mr. Jennings has yet to show Marx wrong on the point at issue. If Mr. Jennings had looked further into Marx’s writings, he would have seen that Marx made it perfectly clear that he was referring to the worker’s position relative to that of the capitalist. Thus, on page 631 of the Glaisher edition he dealt with the increase in the workers’ purchasing power and added :—
  But just as little as better clothing, food, and treatment, and a larger peculium, do away with the exploitation of the slave, so little do they set aside that of the wage-worker.
Secondly, a moment’s reflection should have shown Mr. Jennings that the workers can, as Marx explained, receive a larger amount of the necessaries of life without receiving “a greater share of the wealth produced.”
Editorial Committee

The Workers' Socialist Party (U.S.A.). (1931)

Party News from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers in the U.S.A. are invited to communicate with the Workers' Socialist Party of the United States, at 315, East 14th Street, New York City.

The Workers' Socialist Party are our agents in the U.S.A., and the "Socialist Standard" is obtainable from them at the above address.