Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Voice From The Back: All Right For Some . . . (2012)

The Voice From The Back Column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

All Right For Some . . .
We are told every day by the mass media that we are living through an economic downturn, but some seem to be surviving it rather well. “Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has reported record sales for 2011, having sold 3,538 cars. Sales at the BMW-owned luxury marque grew by 31% from the previous year, although the growth rate was weaker than in 2010 when sales jumped by 150%. Rolls-Royce’s £165,000 Ghost model, which is smaller and less ostentatious than the £235,000 Phantom models, has been the main driving force for sales” (BBC News, 9 January). Bentleys have been selling well too. “The luxury carmaker Bentley has defied the economic gloom with a 37% surge in global sales” (Guardian, 3 January). So while members of the working class are told to tighten their belts the owning class are still buying their Bentleys and Rollers in increasing numbers.


… But Not For Others
Politicians are fond of speaking about ‘family values’ and love photo opportunities that depict them as happily married decent individuals. In practice, though, when defending the profit margins of the owning class they ruthlessly attack the living standards of working class families. “Families with children will be hardest hit by tax and benefit changes aimed at cutting the deficit, a charity argues. The Family and Parenting Institute (FPI) says the average income of households with children will drop by 4.2% between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the equivalent of £1,250 a year. Average household income however will fall 0.9%, or £215 a year, say the FPI” (BBC News, 4 January).


Another Empty Promise
An ex-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, once boasted that we lived in a property-owning democracy, but that boast seems somewhat laughable today. “Almost a million people have turned to a high cost payday loan to cover their mortgage or rent in the past year, the homelessness charity Shelter has claimed. A further 6 million have used other types of credit, including unauthorised overdrafts, other loans or credit cards, to help pay their housing costs, it said (Guardian, 4 January). It seems we now live in a pawn ticket owning society.


An Inhuman Society
Capitalism is a society that constantly attempts to cheapen production so that it can boost profits. This drive is not confined to the factory; it also applies to the hospital. “Hospitals have been accused by ministers of treating patients ‘like parts on a production line’ after official figures suggested that hundreds of thousands of people every year are being sent home before they are well enough. More than 660,000 people were brought back to hospital last year within 28 days of leaving, statistics show, sparking allegations that patients are being hurried through the system so the NHS can meet waiting-list targets” (Daily Telegraph, 29 December). Needless to say, this heartless treatment only applies to members of the working class. The owning class enjoy the best possible medical treatment just as they enjoy the best of everything that society can provide.


The Season Of Goodwill?
During the big sales drive of the Christmas period advertisers put great emphasis on phrases like ‘goodwill to all men’ and ‘peace on earth’ but there is one group of salesmen who don’t rely on such nonsense. The gun manufacturer and arms dealers know that Christmas time is a boom period for gun sales. “According to the FBI, over 1.5 million background checks on customers were requested by gun dealers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in December. Nearly 500,000 of those were in the six days before Christmas. It was the highest number ever in a single month, surpassing the previous record set in November. On December 23 alone there were 102,222 background checks, making it the second busiest single day for buying guns in history” (Daily Telegraph, 1 January).


Pathfinders: The New Untouchables (2012)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists will greet with mixed feelings the news that a milestone in genome sequencing has been reached, enabling anyone to have their entire genome sequenced in one day for just £650 (Independent, 11 January). This task, until recently a hundred-million dollar enterprise involving tens of years and hundreds of scientists, can now be knocked off on a wet Wednesday by a single bored boffin using a machine the size of a microwave oven. In a year or two perhaps, the same feat will be achieved in ten minutes by licking the end of your smart phone.

That this is a testament to the awesome acceleration of science is undeniable. The benefits for the future management or prevention of diseases through individual designer treatments are also undeniable. Humanity’s drive to know itself, to know its essential nature is irresistible, the stuff of legends. There ought to be no down side. But this is capitalism we’re talking about. Information about your body and health prospects can be used against you as well as for you, and the fact that this information will be of interest to insurers and employers is not merely a probability but a racing certainty. As in the film Gattaca (1997), your life and career choices could well be determined and circumscribed by what’s in your genes.

Genome-profiling could be written into contracts everywhere from pre-school to pre-nuptial agreements. It could become the hot new style accessory, the ‘new black’, better than the sports car or the Rolex, better than the implants or the permatan.  Eyes won’t meet anymore across crowded bars, or pheromones traverse the stilly air, nor will courage have to be summoned for the first hesitant approach. Instead, iPhones will poll each other automatically, protocols will synchronise, alerting you to genetically suitable breeding partners according to matched genomic probabilities. Before you’ve even exchanged glances, your hardware will have exchanged financial histories, bought the first round of drinks and booked the dinner table. While nature remains red in claw, human nature will become blue in tooth.

Disability groups, accustomed anyway to being ‘second-class citizens’, have every right to worry about all this. From being chronically under-employed, they may soon become regarded as unemployable, a highly disquieting condition in a social system that only values ‘productive’ workers and which in the past has thought nothing of liquidating ‘unproductive’ ones. But this technology will have the effect of ‘disabling’ many more people than those currently bearing the label. The definition of ‘disability’ will also be extended forward in time to include anyone who is likely to develop a disabling disease in the future, creating a large subset of sell-by-date workers whom employers will not want to bother investing in, whom state institutions like health and education will neglect, whom mating partners will avoid, and whom insurers won’t touch with a barge pole.

Would this subset, driven by lack of opportunity and perhaps a cold sense of fatalism, turn in desperation to insurrection or to crime? Would they be categorised as a social problem at birth? Could two such individuals, the new genetic ‘untouchables’, be charged with criminal negligence if one got the other pregnant? Hard upon the arrival of the genomic ID card would follow the inevitable question of controlled breeding, forced sterilisation, and euthanasia. Capitalism’s quest for maximum return for minimum outlay could give rise to a new fascism in which only the genetically ‘perfect’ have any chance to succeed, or even survive. Eugenics, the dirty word of the Nazi era, could make a comeback.

Given what happened in Nazi Germany, people forget that the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century was not initially seen as some right-wing state-backed war on the underdog, but a forward-thinking, progressive and humane project based on good science. The Fabians supported it, as did Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, Darwin’s own son, in fact virtually all of the ‘right-thinking’ intellectuals. Who would not want a purer gene pool, they thought? What justification could there be for allowing pain and disease to proliferate? Wasn’t eugenics in the best interests of the whole human race?

The theory wasn’t entirely watertight even in its own terms. It had already been shown by 1915 that genetic mutation could jump heritability lines and that heritability was not a closed system but was subject to outside interference. Nowadays a lot more is known about horizontal gene transfer through viral drift. This won’t stop the modern eugenicists, however, since engineering can build by design what crude artificial selection cannot sculpt by elimination. Even if a mutation crops up in a previously ‘pure’ strain it can be engineered back out again. In theory, anyway. In practice, the codebook is open, but nobody knows what the letters mean, and we can only guess by inference when a letter changes. Even if they could read the code, geneticists may never untangle the complex webs of phenotypic effects influenced by one genetic ‘word’, nor identify all the genetic elements necessary to create one – and only one – effect. This unfathomable complexity – pleiotropy – yawns like an abyss between the engineers and their brave new world, but the bridges are being constructed.

There will of course be cries of moral outrage, appeals to civil liberties, and demands for ethical oversight. Capitalism will pay lip-service to these insofar as it has to, but its logic compels it to find out whatever can be found out about the ‘worth’ of each worker, each human tool, and stock its toolbox accordingly.

The argument that it won’t put in its toolbox is the one about putting all your eggs in one basket. Evolution is even more blind and capricious than capitalism. The last thing any thinking species ought to do, if it wants to survive, is confine itself to one tight genetic niche and thereby maximise its vulnerability. That’s the way to become beautiful – and extinct. Genetic diversity doesn’t lead to a shallow and polluted gene pool, as our elitist, narrow-minded and anally-retentive forebears conceived of it. It leads to the best possible defence against extinction in the event of future diseases. Even if one leaves aside every possible moral argument about the ‘right to life’ of all humans, the simple threat of evolutionary extinction alone ought to be enough to annihilate this silly notion of eugenics once and for all. Let all humanity prosper, and bugger the chromosomes.

It’s something of an indictment of capitalism that one even has to make this utilitarian argument in the first place. Moral outrage ought to be enough. But it isn’t, because capitalism has no brain, no heart, and no foresight. As long as the money rolls in, let the heads roll as they may.
Paddy Shannon


Letters: Socialism and the Media (2012)

Letters to the Editors from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and the Media

Dear Editors

The Leveson Enquiry is currently looking into the malpractices of the newspapers but it goes deeper than that. In capitalism there is at present the very large Goliath of capitalist inspired policies and practices and the very small David of socialist education. The same goes for the media. Newspaper, periodicals and other electronic media are overwhelmingly owned and controlled by capitalist interests. They hardly ever mention the s-word and when they do they invariably equate it with nationalisation or what happened in the former Soviet Union.

In socialism education will be for life and life-long. There will likely be a closing of the gap between teacher and taught. In some cases there will be an interchange of roles. For example the same individual may for a time be a teacher in a subject of which they may have made a special study, while at other times they may learn from others who have different specialisms.

People will derive meaning and satisfaction from the varied contributions they make to the material, intellectual, social and cultural world in which they live. Of course  skills and expertise will still need to be taught and learned. But not how to be a professional killer, a persuasive salesperson or a maker of money (except perhaps how to preserve specimens of it in a museum).

In any modern society the media are a reflection of, and a significant part of, the world in which they are located. Regarding the various forms of media in a socialist future, it is easier to say what won’t be in them rather than what will be. Property based crime won’t be reported and discussed because there won’t be any. That doesn’t mean to say that no one will ever behave in an anti-social way or that disputes will never arise, but how these will be coped with is another matter. The salacious events in the lives of media-created ‘celebrities’ seem unlikely to outlast a capitalist-dominated world. We shall have to work for the growth of socialist media to see what will take their place.

In recent years there has been a rapid increase in technological – and especially electronic – invention and gadgetry. We don’t know what the socialist future will bring in this regard. But we can say for sure that there won’t be such things as commercially-inspired advertising, product placement or incitement to consumer addiction. Information about what is or could be made available would be freely accessible by all.
Stan Parker, 
London SW8


Something in the air

Dear Editors

Thank you for the articles in the January Socialist Standard on the Occupy Movement and the radio series Capitalism on Trial. There’s definitely something in the air, and

I was reminded of a comment in an article in the Standard last year – that you know capitalism is in trouble when people start talking about capitalism. And aren’t they just? It’s as though it’s suddenly been noticed that there are obscenely rich people in the world and that the most important division is between them and the rest of us. People are now prepared to talk about the social system as a whole rather than some particular aspect of it, and it’s significant that many of the movements responding to current capitalism have stuck to democratic instincts rather than allowing leaders to emerge from their midst and lead them astray. Moreover, the idea that political problems require a global solution (which the Socialist Party strove for years to propagate, in the face of much ridicule) is now a commonplace.

Of course, all the present unrest may come to nothing. The Occupy movements and the Arab spring movements may lapse into a preoccupation with trying to patch up aspects of the existing society and so become mired in futile reformism. But what should be encouraging for socialists is just the evidence that people can change: they can cease to take for granted what they have accepted so far, they can develop critical attitudes to what has previously been unquestioned, and all of this may come out of the blue. That’s a heartening thought in the context of the present miserable phase of capitalist society.
Keith Graham

Erratum
Re January Pathfinders, Brian Cox writes: “Good article. Only one fact check. I didn’t co-author Things Can Only Get Better. It was written by Peter Cunnah and Jamie Petri.” 

Apologies for the grievous misattribution.

The Love of Gods (2012)

The Halo Halo! column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The thing that convinces people that their religion is true, is that the more they study it the more they realise that God hates the same people as they do”. So runs an old witticism and it’s probably true in many cases.

Another is, “The difference between philosophy and religion is that philosophy is questions which may never be answered, and religion is answers which may never be questioned”. Quite amusing, but the intolerant nature of gods (and their believers) whose answers cannot be questioned is extremely dangerous.

Take the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. By the time you read this she may well be dead. And if she is not it is probably because the bigoted, religion riddled, foolish old men who interpret Allah’s wishes in Iran can’t decide how to kill her.

In 2006 she was convicted of being an accessory to her husband’s murder although her confession, some human rights activists believe, was made under duress. She was given 99 lashes and jailed for ten years. She was then convicted and sentenced to be stoned to death for conducting an illicit relationship outside marriage, a charge, which, says Amnesty International, she denies. One of her lawyers Houtan Kian is in jail after speaking to the media. Her other lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, was also arrested and forced to flee. He now lives in Norway.

After an international outcry by various human rights groups, Malek Ajdar Sharifi, head of judiciary in East Azerbaijan, said she may escape stoning because her prison did not have the “necessary facilities” to carry it out. “There is no rush” he said. “Our Islamic experts are reviewing Ashtiani’s sentence to see whether we can carry out the execution of a person sentenced to stoning by hanging instead”.

It’s not only in Iran, of course, where Allah’s words and answers must never be questioned. In Derby, as this column is being written, five men are on trial for allegedly handing out leaflets calling for gay people to be killed. One of the accused told police that the leaflet, which suggested three different ways to kill gay people, simply expressed what Islam says about homosexuality and it was his duty therefore, as a Muslim, to condemn it. (Guardian 11 January).

Of course Islam doesn’t have the monopoly on religious hatred. In December there were clashes in the town of Beit Shemesh in Israel between secular and moderate Jews on one side, and an ultra-orthodox group known as ‘Haredi’ on the other.

The Haredim have been demanding enforced gender separation on public transport, in shops and in medical centres, and a ban on women soldiers taking part in singing and dancing events organised by the army.

What really upsets the Haredi men though, and has led them to spit, and shout “whore” and other insults at a group of females, is their “immodest” style of dress – knee-length skirts and tops with sleeves to the elbow. The females concerned are girls as young as six whose school happens to be next to an ultra-orthodox enclave.
NW

Fireside Reflections (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

I drew my chair to the fire and settled down to a quiet perusal of the evening paper, the Glasgow Evening Times (January 2nd 1943). As I read, certain noises impinged upon my ears, "Bang, rat-tat-tat. Boom." Then suddenly, "I've got you." “You're dead," a small body slithered to the floor. It started all over again. "You're a German," “I'm an Aussie." Their baby sister was brought into it. "You're an Italian." Taking cover behind the chairs (pardon, rocks), the battle was quickly in full swing again.

What is this in the paper about Roosevelt on Peace Planning? Nothing about the cause of war. For example, “Men had come to see that the maintenance and safeguarding of peace was the most vital single necessity in the lives of each and all of us. All planning for the future was dependant obviously on peace." There was more that had little informative value, and it finished with : "All kinds of planning for the future—economic, social and so on— was not an awful lot of use if there was going to be another war in 10 or 15 years."

Roosevelt expects this system to continue, and if necessary to protect the peace with armed force. Socialists are in no doubt in their answer—repeatedly they have pointed out that if a sane system of society is to be established, the cause of war must be understood by workers. Time after time in the Socialist Standard has the root cause of wars —the private property institution—been exposed, and so long as that system continues, so long may wars be expected, and when the next one comes along, the children in this one are learning to fight the next.

"Hands up." The Italian was captured, and baby sister had to stick them up.

I turned the page, and was presented with the problem of "Britain's Dwindling Population." Some questions appeared in the article, such as: ''Why are people no longer having so many children? Is it desirable to concentrate on quality or quantity of population? Can we arrest the decline? " Some conclusions appeared as well.

"Experience seems to show, however, that you cannot bribe people into having children."

"Richard and Kathleen Titmuss, in their remarkable study of the falling birth-rate, emphasise that family allowances have in no country resulted in higher fertility." The fall in the birth-rate of the people (over 2,000,000 of them) who have incomes over £250 per annum is greater than the fall in the rest of the population who have incomes of £250 per annum and less. Again the problem is flirted with—the expectation that in this present system the problem can be solved. Is it not obvious that intelligent workers can see happening to their children's lives what has happened to them in their lives? What monetary inducement can be offered to wage-slaves, who have suffered the consequences of wage-slavery, to introduce new lives to a similar situation? We workers have witnessed the trials, the horrors, the ceaseless struggles to lessen our burdens. Workers tramped the streets looking for work. Marched on London to demonstrate the misery of our lot. Suffered the means test. Ceased work to forcibly present to our masters our grievances. Were regimented into the Army, Navy, and Air Force, into factories, to fight, bleed, toil and sweat for a cessation of hostilities that will eventually be the prelude of more strivings and strainings, horrors and wars. Unless workers democratically and freely discuss and face the problems that confront them, and again make every effort to unite, not to fight the master class, but to abolish the capitalist system—" What was that? ” "Bang," "Boom," the rush of little feet. " Rat-tat-tat-tat." A small body fell again to the floor. "You're dead.” The play may in time turn to reality.

We Socialists claim justly and logically that we have the solution to the workers' problems, and we invite every worker, irrespective of race or colour, to our meetings to discuss their problems, and we hope that every worker will resolve to eliminate his difficulties through Socialist understanding.
F. and D.

On Keeping Things Dark (1943)

Editorial from the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lowell, in his "Government of England" remarked that the right of M.P.s to probe into the doings of Cabinet Ministers and their departments has been valuable in helping to prevent the growth of that bureaucratic arrogance that he considered was unknown in this country though prevalent elsewhere. If he had been writing in wartime he would not have been so sure, but he was at any rate correct in regarding arrogant bureaucracy as an evil, and it is a fact that the working-class movement has been aided by the extent to which information has been made available through Parliamentary questions and the publication of official reports on the evils of the capitalist system. Marx was one who appreciated this, for he was much indebted to the courage and independence of men like Leonard Horner, inspector of factories in the middle of the 19th century, whose disclosures prevented factory owners from keeping the abominable working conditions from the public gaze. Marx observed that Horner rendered invaluable service to the English working-class by carrying on a lifelong struggle not only against the factory owners but also against Ministers of State, to whom the number of votes of factory owners in the House of Commons was of more importance than the number of hours worked by factory hands.

The inherent love of darkness and secrecy of the bureaucratic mind was shown up recently by a statement in the House of Commons made by Richard Law, M.P., Parliamentary Under Secretary of the Foreign Office. He had been asked about the wretched conditions of political prisoners in North Africa and replied:—
  The government attached importance to the release of all political prisoners in North Africa, but we should ask ourselves whether we were likely to further the objects we had in view by lecturing the authorities in French North Africa in a lofty and perhaps high-handed manner. As for the suggestion that a party of members of Parliament should inspect the camps, he wondered whether we would welcome three or four French members of Parliament going round our prisons here.— (Manchester Guardian, March 25.)
The answer to Mr. Law is that any person who wants to make the world worth living in for everybody would not have any objection at all to opening up all the dark spots to inspection. The bureaucratic mind abhors the light of day as also do all those who have something to hide because it will not bear inspection.

By an odd coincidence the next column of the Guardian gave an illustration of this. Some years ago the punishment of “pack drill" was officially abolished in the army and in army detention barracks, yet several cases have just been brought to light showing that it is still sometimes imposed.

The working class have everything to gain by the abolition of secrecy. Why should the workers, here or in any ether country, allow stupid national prejudice to stand in the way of exposure? It would do no harm—except to bureaucrats and others who have something to hide—and might do a considerable amount of good if M.P.s or anybody else, from France or from any other place, could have access to information now shrouded in secrecy. Some enlightened Americans or Russians might have quite a lot to say about English prisons, English slums, English working-class housing conditions and English factories, etc. Some visitors from countries where capital punishment has been abolished might have caustic remarks to make about hanging in English prisons and about the use of the Official Secrets Act to prevent Mrs. Van Der Elst from having access to prison medical reports. If, as was alleged, "they are most ghastly reading" (Evening Standard report of her trial, March 26) why should Government officials and ministers alone be allowed to read them? Some American visitors to Russia might do good work if allowed to tell us more about Russian concentration camps if we may judge by Quentin Reynolds' statement in "Only the Stars are Neutral" (Cassell & Co., 1942, page 174). He relates that he and another American journalist when in Kuibyshef in 1941 "passed one of the big concentration camps reserved for political prisoners. Beyond that we saw a long line of them working on a new road. There were about 800 of them. They were swinging pickaxes and wielding shovels, and on their faces there was no sign of hope. A few soldiers with rifles guarded them carelessly, for there was no place for them to run. Steele and I looked at each other and winced. Of course it wasn't as bad as the convict labour I'd seen in our own South, because these prisoners weren't shackled and they didn't wear stripes. We winced, I think, because these 800 prisoners were all women."

Then some enlightened Russians might return the compliment by studying and reporting on the American chain-gangs that Reynolds refers to; and on the way the American Constitution is evaded to prevent many negroes from voting in elections. And what about some independent-minded foreign snoopers looking into the way natives are treated in South Africa and elsewhere in the British Empire?

The stock answer of the bureaucrat will doubtless be to point to Germany and say that there you have the blackest spot of all; but that is no good reason for turning a blind eye on the rest of the world.

The working class gain from free and open discussion. Censorship and secrecy are traditional weapons of the ruling class.

By The Way (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is culled from the "City News" of the Daily Express for March 22 :—
  London's restaurants seem to be well in the money again. Quaglino's made a loss in 1940 and a profit of only £11,500 in 1941. Now they report a profit of £36,905 for the past year, bringing back dividends after two blank years. Shareholders are to get 10%, the. best since 1936. The Company’s 5/- shares, down to 6d. in the blitz, are now 5/6.
For the benefit of provincial and foreign readers, not familiar with the West End of London, it should be explained that 'Quags' is perhaps the most exclusive, and therefore expensive, London "joint," once notorious as the haunt of Royally and high aristocracy.

After four years of Lord Woolton's belt-tightening, and potato pies, in shilling-a-meal "British Restaurants"; screaming denunciations of food waste and extravagance in the Press; harrowing posters of sinking ships and drowning sailors by the Ministry of Food; this gorging and guzzling den, for the very top layer of the upper crust only, has been more packed than ever since 1936.

Naturally, caviare, hothouse vegetables and fruits, pheasant, grouse, and priceless old wines, are not rationed. They don't need to be. The normal working of the capitalist system sees to that. What is rationed, peace or war, is the amount of their produce which the workers get back in the form of money-wages.

This is necessarily a small proportion of their product, and condemns them to a very small portion of shoddy goods.

One other interesting sidelight from the company's report. The patrons of Quaglino's lost interest in London during the blitz. The Restaurant's 5/- shares went down to 6d. because some of "the cream" went down to a safe area; until the working class had beaten off the Germans, put the fires out, swept up, put its apron and evening dress on, and sounded the all clear, ready to serve the gilded parasites all over again—poor things !
Horatio.

Contemptible Communist Propaganda Methods (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not an accident that Communist propaganda methods in Great Britain have for many years fallen to a particularly low level of irresponsibility and dishonesty. They were tainted at their source in the Communist International. Angelica Balabanoff, who after many years in the Italian Labour movement, held influential position in Bolshevik Russia, gives interesting examples of Communist methods even in the early days. She relates, for example, that as early as 1918 Lenin and others were prepared to use any means and instruments to gain whatever object they had immediately in view. On one occasion Radek was busy forming Communist groups out of foreigners then in Russia as prisoners of war, with the object of carrying on propaganda in their own countries on their return. Balabanoff found, however, that these alleged Communists were attracted to join the group by the favour and privilege membership carried with it, and "practicality none of them had any contact with the revolutionary or labour movement in their own countries and knew nothing of Socialist principles" ("My Life as a Rebel," p. 233). Balabanoff (who later broke with the Bolshevists over their use of such methods) says that two of the Italian prisoners "were about to return to Italy with special credentials from Lenin and a large sum of money. I had only to talk with them for a few moments in Italian to understand that they knew nothing of the Italian movement, or even of the elementary terminology of Socialism. I decided to go direct to Lenin with my protest."

When she told Lenin of this and advised him that the Italians were "merely profiteers of the Revolution" and would seriously damage Communism in Italy, Lenin's cynical reply was: "For the destruction of Turati's party, they are quite good enough."

It is but a step from Lenin in 1918 to the Communist Party of Great Britain now. For the achievement of whatever object they have in view at any moment, any men and any methods are deemed good enough. Recently the Daily Worker carried on for weeks on end a campaign of denunciation of a small group called the British National Party. Hardly anyone would have heard of this obscure B.N.P. but for the Daily Worker's campaign for their suppression as being Fascist sympathisers; but as a tactic what could be more useful to the Communists? If only the Communists could persuade the credulous that this B.N.P. is a great and growing menace how easy to recruit members to the Communist Party to fight it! Sc with characteristic irresponsibility the Daily Worker pursued its campaign. But irresponsibility has its pitfalls and sure enough the Daily Worker fell. It announced in its issue of February 25 that the B.N.P. had booked Lysbeth Hall "in the name of the Socialist Party" for an Easter Conference. With what was a thinly disguised incitement to disorder the article opened as follows:—
  A Fascist conference, meeting openly in the heart of London whilst lads give their lives fighting Fascism abroad. That is the prospect if present plant of the British National Party are allowed to be carried into effect (italics ours).
At this point it is important to notice a statement made in the House of Commons on March 18 by Mr. Herbert Morrison, Home Secretary. He said that the B.N.P. "is a small body with only about a hundred members, and in no way merits the importance recently attributed to it" (Manchester Guardian, March 19, 1943).

Yet the Daily Worker, which claims to know all about the B.N.P., not only published details of an imaginary conference being held by the B.N.P. but added the statement that "preparations are being made to accommodate some 500—600 delegates, for whom catering has already been arranged." (Daily Worker, February 25.)

So the 100 members were going to send 500—600 delegates! Perhaps this throws light on how the Communists arrange their own conferences!

As was pointed out in The Socialist Standard for March (back page), the Daily Worker when called to account for the utterly false statement that we had had a hand in arranging the imaginary B.N.P. conference (the only Conference was our own, held in this hall for the third year running) published a brief and inadequate extraction, without apology. They, declined to publish a longer statement sent to them.

Another illustration of Communist malice and irresponsibility is afforded by a letter received by our West Ham Branch from the West Ham Branch of the Communist Party. It arose out of a challenge to debate.

Here is the letter, a. typical piece of Communist scurrility :—
Read the Daily Worker, World News and Views, and
 Labour Monthly.
COMMUNIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN

West Ham Branch.
115, The Grove,
Stratford, E.15.
February 23, 1943. 
The Communist Party has NO dealings with murderers, liars, renegades, or assassins. 
The S.P.G.B., which associates itself with followers of Trotsky, the friend of Hess, has always followed a policy which would mean disaster for the British working class. They have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, told filthy lies about the Red Army, the Soviet people and its leaders, gloated over the assassination of Kirov and other Soviet leaders, applauded the wrecking activities of Trotskyist saboteurs in the Soviet Union. They have worked to split the British working class, and are in short agents of Fascism in Great Britain. 
The C.P.G.B. refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed. 
C.P.G.B., West Ham Branch,
J. Barker, Secretary. 
Needless to say, none of the charges in the letter are true or have even a semblance of basis in fact. Doubtless even the West Ham Communists realise this well enough—hence their failure, when challenged, even to attempt to substantiate their letter.
Executive Committee.

Titbits From The I.L.P. Stewpot (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The I.L.P. of 1943 is bang in trouble, although present-day defenders of the I.L.P. take no responsibility for the trickery and treachery imposed on the working class by the I.L.P. in its "march to power"; they must realise that if the I.L.P. is made up of the same stuff as in previous years, then their dope just won't go down as easy. 1943 has a working class much different, politically, from that of 1929. Scotland has had a generous helping of I.L.P. leadership; in 1929, of the 37 labour representatives elected in Scotland, 36 were members of the I.L.P. The following telegram was sent to Ramsay Mac’: 
  "Scottish I.L.P. congratulate you on your leadership in the magnificent success for Labour and Socialism at the polls" (Glasgow Herald, June 3rd, 1929). 
36 members of the I.L.P. in Parliament, representing thousands of Scottish workers, naturally gave the I.L.P. ideas, so they made this historic statement:
  "We stand as the ruling class in Scotland, and if we have not got complete control of Great Britain, we are going to have the opportunity of ruling Great Britain. It is not fitting that the ruling, class should go in rags." (Glasgow Herald, June 3rd, 1929.) 
Despite the fact that the I.L.P. stood as the ruling class in Scotland, no difference was noticed in the hellish conditions of the working-class in Scotland.

Glasgow, a hotbed of I.L.P.ism, to this day retains its rat-infested slums, and has the highest infantile death rate of any town in Great Britain. Yes! many of the workers that voted for the I.L.P. still live and remember.

But let's forget the past; these men were villains. Live for the future; let's have a Socialist Britain now! so say the present defenders of I.L.P.ism. Is the 1943 I.L.P. any different?—To the Socialist, the present-day programme of the I.L.P. in no way differs from the Keir Hardie days. It is the same reformism that was embraced by Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Sir Oswald Mosley, and others. To-day it suits the Catholic M.P, for Shettleston, Mr. McGovern, and his opposite number, Mr. Maxton.

Should one find it inconvenient to be an I.L.P. M.P., then one can change over to the Labour Party, as did George Buchanan, M.P. for Gorbals.

The present policy of the I.L.P. is, as before, vote-catching; it parades its anti-war policy as socialistic; the P.P.U. or the N.C.L. might as well make a similar claim—they have as much justification as the l.L.P. to do so. The S.P.G.B. warned the I.L.P. and other organisations that they would have to face, sooner or later, a politically intelligent working class, a working class that by bitter experience have reached a measure of political understanding that will not tolerate the impudent nostrums and insults previously thrust on their fellow men by unscrupulous leaders using such labels as I.L.P., L.P., and C.P. There is a growing tendency amongst the modern working class to examine the political and economic structure of capitalist society, when enough of these workers get the fundamentals of political economy, then the reformists will surely become the doomed battalion.

The rank and file of the I.L.P. are not concerned with the Socialist case from a scientific point of view; they indulge in hero-worship and a lazy mental outlook, both political and religious. This can be proven by the present trouble inside the ''Socialism in Britain now” movement, on the .religious question and also their policy.

Page 4 of the New Leader, January 16th, 1943, is devoted to an article by John McGovern, M.P., headed "This is the Year of Our Opportunity.” He says: "Let us purge our minds of doubts, our bodies of laziness, and our hearts of cowardice, and let us face the tasks of 1943.”

Before McGovern asks anyone to do anything, he should clear up some of the mess that at present is prevalent inside the I.L.P. A controversy, "Catholics and Socialism,” has been going on in the pages of the New Leader. F. A. Ridley has upset the apple cart again by his slashing attacks on the Catholic Church; this is resented by the Catholic element inside the I.L.P. and endorsed by the non-Catholic element. Let us examine three contributions from the New Leader, January 16th, 1943, on this question.

Harry Carr, Manchester, writes attacking Ridley. He says: "Amongst the mildest of Ridley's recent assertions from his fortnightly pulpit was that 'Christianity to-day had little enough to do with Christ.' He now says categorically that no Catholic can be a loyal Socialist.

"If the l.L.P. as a body supports him in this, then these of us who value freedom of conscience will know what to do. I hope I have made myself clear.”

Mr. Carr has certainly made himself clear.

R. Gray, Motherwell, also makes himself clear. He defends Ridley. He says : "May I quote a passage from the Encyclical letter 'Quadragesimo Anno' on the Pope's opinion on Socialism? Whether Socialism be considered as a doctrine, or a historical, fact, or as a movement, if it really remains Socialism, it cannot be brought into harmony with the dogmas of the Catholic Church, even if it has yielded to truth and justice in the points we have mentioned, the reason being that it conceives human society in a way utterly alien to Christian truth.' Pope Pius XI. then states: 'No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist.' ”

Mr. Fenner Brockway, Editor of the New Leader, gives the l.L.P. position on this question. He says: "So far as the l.L.P. is concerned, it must, of course, retain the liberty to criticise any institution whose policy is detrimental to the achievement of Socialism, but it applies no religious test to membership to the party, believing this to be a matter for the individual.” (New Leader, January 16th, 1943).

To the writer, Brockway means that you can be a Catholic and a Socialist at the same time. Ridley will agree with B. Gray of Motherwell that you cannot.

McGovern will agree with Brockway and the Pope at the same time.

Harry Carr of Manchester is in a helluva mess, but so is the I.L.P.

We of the S.P.G.B. have no religious axe to grind with any Church or the I.L.P.; a plague on both their houses.

Scientific Socialists have no room for religious or political nonsense. Our position is if you are a true Christian you are not a Socialist; further, if you support the 1943 policy of the I.L.P., you are a defender of capitalism.

Ridley creates further trouble for the I.L.P.—he states in Left, January, 1943:
  "What is the future role of the I.L.P.? At present, it is the only party in this country with even an ostensibly revolutionary character and policy; As such it has the entire field to itself. It has, literally, no competitors.
   "If the I.L.P. can become a revolutionary party in fact as in name, if it can forget the reformist past and concentrate on the revolutionary future, it has an unique opportunity both to lead the British masses forward to their inevitable show-down with the imperialists who rule them . . . "
Ridley knows the reformist character of the I.L.P. Whether or not 1943 produces a revolutionary I.L.P. remains to be seen. The present constitution of the I.L.P. convicts it as a reformist party, still advocating leadership, believing in great men, etc. Therefore, there is more trouble ahead for the I.L.P. and other reformist organisations.

The political intelligence of the working class is rising, hence the difficulty of the Independent Labour Party to survive. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is to-day reaping the benefit for its clear cut policy and strict adherence to Socialist principles along the lines laid down by Marx and Engels.
Gadfly.

The Camera Cannot Lie (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his "Falsehood in War-time” (Allen & Unwin, 1928) Arthur Ponsonby (now Lord Ponsonby) published an interesting collection of the irresponsible or deliberately fabricated stories used on both sides in the last war as an aid to war-propaganda. On the title page he quotes a saying, "When war is declared. Truth is the first casualty.” Wars do not change in that respect, and John Bright's statement of a century ago is still true: "You will find wars are supported by a class of argument which, after the war is over, the people find were arguments they should never have listened to.”

A small illustration of the ease with which news can be coloured occurred recently in the Sunday Pictorial (March 28, 1943). On the front page is a picture of a woman tearfully waving farewell to someone in a departing train at a railway station. The description provided by the Pictorial is that she is "a young Parisienne wife” at a Paris station. ". . . for her the tearful agony of farewell is made all the more bitter by the fact that her man has been brutally torn from her side by Hitler's order to make munitions for use against her friends.”

A very plausible story, but the picture (suitably altered from the original) had already appeared in Picture Post, May 23, 1942. Only there the lady was waving farewell to her husband, an English soldier, who had gone off for his training. So the English wife, who started weeping on Paddington station in May, 1942, was still weeping 11 months later, but now miraculously transformed into a Frenchwoman, in Paris, watching a train, (with "Third Class” blacked out) on its way to Germany. Large numbers of readers of Picture Post (like The Socialist Standard reader who informed us) had spotted the fake, and Picture Post (April 10) drew attention to it. The Sunday Pictorial explained that they had taken the picture from a Swiss newspaper.

The incident itself is unimportant, but it should serve to remind readers of the capitalist Press and listeners to the wireless of the possibility of news being, distorted and falsified. Though it should also be remembered that the really harmful distortions are not usually crude fakes like this photo. What is much more serious is the permanent (and often unconscious) twist given to information by colouring, selecting and suppressing, in line with the class interests of those who control the sources of information.
P. S.


Fairy Tales of the Future (1943)

A Short Story from the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Story of Exploitation
Once upon a time there lived in the society of men in the land of Britain a gentleman named Lord Dodo, who was well known and renowned for his prodigal generosity, and in consequence men paid heed to his words and deeds and courted his presence. Fairy Inquisitive asked, “How is it, when there are so many men so poor in society, you are able to be so munificently generous?" The Noble Plutocrat replied, amiably: "What I have done, other men can do; it only needs the talents—Industry, Initiative, Ability and Patience, and to believe in tile Great Institution of Private Property/' A little proly, who heard, wondered and pondered on this and thought, "What a good thing it would be if I could be as he." And as he mused, along came Fairy Understanding. Fairy Understanding, who was an honest little chap, said to proly, "I can't understand without facts, and so you won't understand without them." Proly eagerly cried, "What can I do to get facts?" Understanding answered, "You must search and inquire in the books of men." He and Understanding began the search. After much toil and effort, they came to "Das Kapital," and as proly read with understanding, he murmured, "I have the Key and Facts and Understanding. It is so simple. The workers present themselves to the Noble Lord's Agents, who estimate their skill and potential capacity to do work, and who tell the workers when, where, and as to the conditions they may work under. They have sold their labour-power. In due course they present themselves in the work compound. All times of beginning and, stopping work are carefully recorded. They proceed to spend their mental and physical energy on the materials supplied by the noble Lord, who does not pay for the time spent in feeding, or the food absorbed, in an interval allowed for the purpose, although it is needed to sustain their energy. They cease work, go home, indulge in meals, sleep and recreation to keep them fit. Next morning they are ready for another day of toil. At the end of the week they are paid, not the value of what they have produced, but what it costs to keep themselves and their families for a week—that is the value of their labour- power. This value is less than the value it produces during a week of work. The Noble Lord sells the product of a week's labour at its value, and deducts from the cash he receives. The remainder he keeps as unpaid labour or profits." Proly stopped, then he cried, “There' is a word for it—exploitation—and it is very ugly." But Understanding said, "You forget Facts and the facts are these; he and others have Right, Privilege, Precedence and Legality, and he is an honest, upright and generous individual." "What can I do to alter these things?" said Proly, and Understanding replied, "To change society you must gather the prolys together. When they understand the need for change and when there is a majority of prolys united for the common purpose of overthrowing the Private Property Institution and securing the Common Ownership, they will capture the Wizard of Might (political power) and build society so that the insidiousness of exploitation wilt be no more."

And in time Fairies Fact and Understanding and the prolys came together, abolished the Private Property Institution, secured the Common Ownership, and so we today are free from exploitation and we work only to supply our needs.
Web.

Money in Diamonds (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Evening Standard of April 18 states that the prices of "gem" stones in Hatton Garden have gone up 20 per cent. in the last few days. Also that it is expected, that more than £10,000,000 will be spent on gems this year. De Beers (the chief South African diamond concern) shares have risen from £7 last year to well over £17, and are still soaring.

Thus, in spite of Sir Kingsley Wood's exhortations, quite a number of capitalists (unless it can be over-paid munition workers, at £4 a. week), instead of lending all their money to the Government, prefer to have something handy and portable like diamonds, in these troublesome times, which can quickly realise a respectable sum anywhere.

Funnily enough, although everybody is supposed to be tightening belts, and "austerity" is the order of the day (its got something to do with winning the war), the most fabulous sums ever known have been spent on racehorses (£70,000 by one man) wines (£7 a bottle), rare orchids, old books, prints and carpets.

Perhaps it is because "austerity" for the lower orders is the counterpart of opulence for the few.
Horatio

Architecture and Politics: The Key to the Radiant City (1969)

From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Architecture is not fulfilling its mission as long as it has not provided a roof (tectum) for all that should be sheltered. In this sense it should concern itself with collective services, with the agglomerations.
Letter from Paul Otlet to Le Corbusier, 1928
No architect in this century has had more influence through his ideas, buildings, and books than Le Corbusier. So much of modern architecture shows signs of his influence that it is impossible to imagine how different most of the buildings going up around us would have looked had he not existed. In city planning some of the methods he proposed 40 years ago — such as complete separation of cars and pedestrians — have only recently taken root in the minds of a few planning authorities. His ideas on almost every aspect of architectural design — from the free facade and buildings on stilts (pilotis) to 'brute concrete’ and sculptural building form, to name but a few — are still such a potent force and subject of controversy today that it may seem surprising that architects play down his political views (which he expressed no less strongly than his views on design) and even appear to ignore them.

But this is not really so surprising. To most architects and city planners politics is an embarrassment, and although every building programme is at the mercy of political and economic forces they consider these to be outside their professional scope altogether. Le Corbusier was notorious for his unique ‘arrogance’ and ‘outspokenness’. And although his political views were unsystematic, it is very encouraging to find this unique man starting out from the need to provide all his fellow-men with a decent environment and from there working out a programme similar in many respects to Socialism.

He was born in Switzerland in 1887. In 1933 his book The Radiant City (one of many) was published in France. (In a republished edition in 1964, the year before his death, he endorses everything he says in it.) The Radiant City is designed for leisure, sun, greenery, and open sky; large expanses of parkland separate rows of apartments; the playing-fields are right outside the apartments; the roofs are 60-foot-wide sun decks (beaches, in fact); the street no longer exists (except inside the buildings); homes are fully soundproofed and air-conditioned; there are nurseries, swimming-pools, and laundries minutes away, and industry in a separate zone two or three miles away (but minutes by car or bus) . . . Even though many architects disagree with various details of Le Corbusier’s scheme, it is hard to see how anyone can quarrel with the standards and quality he was aiming for. A utopia? Far from it—it was well within our technological and other resources back in 1930. Only the political structure prevented it then and prevents it now. Listen to what Le Corbusier says:
  It is recognised that industry is submerging us with products that are irrelevant to our happiness. We have been propelled by machines into a false adventure, into a misadventure: these machines that can produce ten or 20 times as much as we ourselves ought to enable us to work at least five or ten times less. Modern industry, organised according to the laws of supply has inundated us with useless consumer goods. Wandering down this primrose path, allowing one thing to lead to another, we have finally allowed ourselves to be taken over entirely by what we call free competition, which is to say a form of slavery, which means that any effort is immediately countered by an opposing effort . . . we have become merely a flock of rams, horns locked together . . . The flock’s strength is drained away, yet it is not moving . . .  we can make no progress! Free competition has been forced to invent advertising, the prospectus, the exhibition, product prizes, etc.: all those competing have to summon up all their energy to cancel out the efforts of their competitors. 
  It is indisputable that this frightful competition gives rise to the most violent emulation and effort. 
 But is it also certain that the human spirit is incapable of creative enthusiasm when faced with fruitful tasks? 
  An economy based on demand would put an end to the reign of the travelling salesman and the advertising agent, but it would necessitate a programme . . . for the production of useful consumer goods. Though not a narrow and exclusive one. The mind must always be left enough elbow room to satisfy its deepest purposes: quest for quality, supremacy, straggle and competition — but on the fertile soil of disinterest.  
   Our programme will concern itself with consumer products of a useful nature and with the redirection of industry onto the path towards its true aims; with providing work for all and guaranteeing every man his daily hours of freedom; and with providing physical sites and quarters designed to permit the man of today to enjoy this new freedom without constraint, instead of being hemmed in like a hare in an ever-dwindling square of wheat at harvest time.
(Le Corbusier's own italics etc. throughout all extracts.)
Le Corbusier also underlines the socialist case in his attacks on money —though he doesn't make it too clear whether he would get rid of it altogether or replace it with some ‘purer’ form of exchange.
  Let us measure the full and cruel meaning of our present state: for some time now, we have been working merely for money. 
  A deceptive goal. It stimulates only a few of our qualities and leaves the most precious of them inactive. Worse, it encourages the defects in human nature . . . 
  If society were to reorganise itself, to distribute the fruits of its labour in a new way, then our concern for money could diminish, and our energies, freed in this way, would find the roads opened towards goals set by higher passions.
And of his programme for a new environment he says:
  It means replacing the violent, savage, cruel and ruthless civilisation of money with another based on harmony and collaboration; one in which each member of society will feel himself a vital agent in this enterprise . . .
Le Corbusier realised that his plan for a Radiant City involved the ‘replanning’ of private property (though he did not go so far as to suggest abolishing it). In August 1932 he wrote that until then he had never found it necessary to discuss politics or economics; but through his professional life he had encountered an obstacle: unproductive property. Land which could form part of a wonderful human environment, in which the senses were no longer starved, in which freedom and privacy were possible, and in which work was cut to five hours a day and leisure used to the full, was lying waste — derelict, uncultivated, or misused.
  Today we own land, but without any obligation to work it. In fact, a law which no-one would dream of disputing gives one the right to work it or not, just as one wishes.
And the ‘denaturalisation’ of property, he adds, made impossible the kind of work from which springs collective action. The present form of land tenure is invested with private rights antagonistic to the public right. ‘But if the public right is infringed, then THE INDIVIDUAL SUFFERS.' And in the caption to an aerial view of Alsace, showing plots of farmland endlessly subdivided between heirs for generation after generation: “We live in a machine age, but machines cannot be used here.”

Capitalism forces its workers into the moulds that best suit its ends, regardless of whether these moulds cramp its workers' spirit. Le Corbusier passionately resented this. He poured scorn on football stadiums and other 'arenas’ in which the few are paid to perform while the many — whose need for active sport and whose ability to enjoy it is no less—sit and watch. He lamented the fact that most city-dwellers leave one compartment giving onto a street, (home) for another (work) and in between experience nothing but asphalt or stone under their feet, the ephemera of the daily paper or advertisements in their mini, poisoned air and smoke in their lungs, and barely a tree or a decent-sized stretch of sky, greenery, or water in sight.

But his programme had serious limitations.

Although he believed that architecture and city planning would, one day become extensions of politics, sociology, and ethics, he believed that ‘research into the correct solution for this problem (common ownership of land) is not part of the architect’s professional task.’ More food for the myth that ‘professional politicians' are essential! But in fact Le Corbusier planned to toss the problem to another profession: the law. ‘Let the lawyers find a way!' he exclaims. And:
  It must be the task of our jurists to find a way of initiating the indispensable changes in present land tenure . . .
And although he wants international standardisation for building components, an international technical language, and so on, his thinking is still in national terms. He refers constantly to “mobilisation of the country’s land” (i.e. France’s) and to a national authority. Perhaps it is this acceptance of the nation state that leads him to accept war as inevitable — he points out the great advantages of pilotis for raising buildings above clouds of poison gas, and proposes armour-plated roof-decks to resist aerial bombardment.

Nevertheless, his political awareness is amazingly advanced compared with that of most architects. This is perhaps because his mental scope exceeded theirs. After all, it is terribly difficult to work out a viable political philosophy all on one’s own. There may be millions of people (architects among them) who, on having Socialism explained to them, will say: “That’s just what I’ve believed for a long time—but I could never put it properly into words!” And we believe with Le Corbusier that, despite the scornful laughter of cynics and spokesmen for capitalism, “there is a power for enthusiasm in the human soul that can be made to. explode”.
A.M.B.