Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Wrong Way (1947)

From the January 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first day on which the daily newspapers were able to increase their size—September 23rd, 1946— the Daily Herald saw fit to commence publication of a series of articles by J. B. Priestley, entitled “The Mood of the People.” It seemed strange to read on the same page, first the Editorial, which said that the advancement of the Labour cause was the task which the Daily Herald wanted to perform and, second, the article by Mr. Priestley, which was a bitter attack on the present behaviour of the workers.

"Too many people are going the wrong way,” he said, by which he meant that there is “a dwindling interest in the job. A cynical indifference as to what value is given for money received. An undisguised contempt for the customer. And too much downright dishonesty.” He was careful to safeguard himself by saying that most people are doing their decent best, and he had noticed in his own special fields of interest that the people to-day are livelier and more intelligent but, says he, the fact still remains that too many people, including a high proportion of the young, are going the ‘‘wrong way.” He claims they are losing their community sense, all pride and interest in the job—they are “rapidly becoming bad mannered, lazy and cheaply cynical.”

He points out that the workers no longer feel the threat of unemployment and poverty—that the world has been improved, otherwise such people would not feel at liberty to behave so badly in it. Whilst giving him credit for not wishing to see conditions which produce unemployment and poverty we cannot but take exception to his effort to get the workers to work harder simply for the reason that we think, and apparently we are not alone, that the world has not been improved, nor the threat of unemployment and poverty removed by the advent of a Labour Government. If workers find themselves in ‘‘an emotional and spiritual vacuum” now it must be because all the hot air exuded by Labour Party candidates to gain votes at the General Election has too rapidly risen to the skies and left a void behind.

According to Mr. Priestley we are now taking part in a gradual slow-motion revolution, and new incentives must be found to get the workers to give the wheel a shove instead of applying the brake.

All of this might be good if it were true; if Socialism were here—but, unfortunately, it is false.

Where is this revolution that is “transforming our whole society’’?

Is it a revolution to have caused the Bank of England stockholders and the owners of a few other large concerns to exchange their stock for Government securities—their stake in a corporation for a stake (of greater security) in the National Treasury. Is it a revolution to have introduced the payment of family allowances—which will have a depressing influence on wages? Is it a revolution to introduce social ” security ” schemes, which with their niggardly increases merely bring pre-war pensions and doles approximately in line with the present cost of living?

These are the sort of things for which the voters voted. For reforms—not revolution; for patching up the old society—not for transforming it; for capitalism —not for Socialism.

Mr. Priestley, flirting with Russian “stakanovisin.” says that in order to get the best out of men and women a system of ‘‘functional privilege” should be introduced—different baits in different jobs—until there is plenty of everything for everybody and everybody can buy what they like! Here we have the crux of the matter and find that these articles are only another form of apology for present-day capitalism. Simply the old argument dressed up in fine phrases—the workers should work harder to put the country on a sound profit-making basis, rebuild its export trade, then, when a surplus has been produced, sit back and enjoy it to the full.

No wonder Mr. Priestley cries, ” Away with dry and dreary economists—we want a psychological approach” !

"Give us a carrot or two!”, he pleads.

The capitalist class has been dangling carrots of all shapes, sizes and descriptions in front of the workers’ noses for a century or more! Yet Mr. Priestley wants a carrot!

For the past seven years the workers have been exhorted by all means of propaganda to eat carrots instead of oranges—yet Mr. Priestley wants more carrots.

Now we have a Labour Government promising all sorts of goodies in the misty future—yet Mr. Priestley still wants more carrots!

As workers we can’t understand the man. ”A little elementary psychology,” indeed—for whom?

Look around you, Mr. Priestley—there is no need to go to Russia to use your powers as a “trained observer.” Is the economic position of the working class in our society basically different from what it has been since the birth of capitalism? Has the Labour Government expropriated the wealth which the capitalist class call their “private” property, but which is the accumulated labour of millions of workers extracted from them during tens of decades of vicious exploitation? Have they taken it, and are they administering it as the common property of the whole of society? And, in doing so, have they thereby removed the necessity for all workers to find a buyer for their ability to work before they can acquire the wherewithal to eat, drink, clothe, and sleep? Is it no longer necessary to find a market for and to sell at a profit the things which are produced?

The answer to all these questions is- NO!

How, then, can there ever be plenty of everything for everybody under such conditions?

It is common ground for all economists that a "sellers" market exists to-day—almost anything that can be produced will find a willing and eager buyer anywhere in the world. As a consequence, all nations are producing as much as they can in order to sell as much as possible in the markets available before they become saturated with goods. When the markets become saturated, and there are signs of it already, prices and profits will tend to fall as a result of competition which will become keener and keener as supply exceeds demand. As a result of the imminent fall in prices the capitalist class will he driven to cutting costs, and this will be done by decreasing wages and staffs and getting more work out of each worker left employed. Thus when there is plenty of everything will he precisely the time when the majority of the people—the working class—will have less money to spend, and a greater inability to buy the goods they have produced.

It is no good Labour spokesmen prating about full employment and social security—they can provide neither so long as profit-making is the aim of production, whether this latter be State controlled or privately controlled. The whole mentality of the Labour Party clearly shows that there is no intention of producing goods solely for the use of the community, and the fact must therefore he faced that in carrying on production for profit they are acting as the agents of capitalism, and against the interests of the workers.

The Labour Party, with roseate phrases, has taken its stand as an allegedly working-class party, and now that it has obtained power it is faced with the insoluble problem of running capitalism and yet trying to satisfy working-class demands. It cannot do this, and must not be surprised, therefore, if the workers’ instinctive revulsion to increased exploitation becomes apparent.

Although some of the tendencies of the modern working class ay he obnoxious to those whose minds can conceive of no better world than one in which goods are produced for sale, it seems to us very questionable whether they are going the wrong way. Perhaps they are instinctively going the right way, and when instinct gives place to knowledge, we have no doubt they will sweep away every vestige of capitalism, including all its intellectual apologists, and set up a society in their own interests based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production.

Then, there will be plenty of everything we need and no need to buy anything.
N. S.

Whither Arthur Koestler (1947)

Book Review from the January 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thieves in the Night,” Arthur Koestler’s new book, has the sub-title, "Chronicle of an Experiment," the experiment being the foundation of a Palestinian Settlement. Actually the purpose of the book appears to be to tell us about Koestler's latest ideas hopes and fears, these being expressed through characters who are rather mouthpieces than individuals with a life of their own.

The scene of "Thieves in the Night" is laid in pre-war Palestine and opens with the arrival of Jewish refugees armed with tractors and fertilisers at yet another settlement, determined as always to make "the desert blossom as the rose," and to put to shame the miserable Arabs scratching the earth with a wooden plough. Both these intentions are realised. Meantime persecution of Jews in Europe proceeds apace, the British Government limits immigration into Palestine in 1939, and as a reaction Jewish terrorism breaks out. It is indeed a topical book!

It states the case for the Jews, more particularly the so-called Revisionists against the Arabs in a forcible manner. But even the editor of the "Jewish Standard" (the organ of the Revisionists of Great Britain) reviewing the book, feels that Koestler is a little unfair to the Arabs. The Revisionists are one of the very many sects or parties of Zionists, perhaps the most radical, who violently oppose partition and any form of compromise short of having the whole of Palestine for the Jews, with the Arabs as a minority. Vladimir Jabotinsky was the founder of the movement, and it is to him that the book is dedicated.

Koestler was a Revisionist in pre-war Vienna, and it would appear that he is par excellance a man basing all political aspirations on emotions and the whim of the moment, his sympathies moving as on a pendulum. In 1931 he joined the Communist Party and spent a year in the U.S.S.R. In 1936 he went to Spain as a journalist to cover the Spanish War. He was filled with indignation at the horrors of civil war and from it emerged "Spanish Testament.” His works, “Darkness at Noon" and the "Yogi and the Commissar,” portrayed his disillusionment with Soviet Russia and his swing away from the Communist Party. It was whilst he was enamoured of [the] Soviet Russia that he dropped Zionism believing that "Socialism,” though presumably by this he meant Russian State capitalism, would be the solution to the Jewish problem. This did not, however, worry his Jewish friends, who knew his pendulum-like temperament; Jabotinsky is reputed to have said, “he will return to the fold again.” He appears to have done so. Bauman, the Jewish terrorist leader of “Thieves in the Night,” says:—“We can’t wait until Socialism solves all racial problems. That will perhaps happen one day, but long before that day we shall have been exterminated ” (page 296).

Koestler has now concluded that Socialism is not the solution to Palestine's problems but it is not Socialism but merely his misconception of Socialism that is at fault. The Socialist Party of Great Britain did not make his mistake concerning the Russian revolution, hence it does not experience Koestler’s disillusionment, nor yet conclude that terrorism is the solution.

The Revisionists view Britain’s intentions in Palestine in a decidedly realistic manner. They realise that British capitalism requires Palestine as a Middle Eastern base, and wish to deny it to any potential enemy. They realise that no base is effective if the native population is definitely hostile. Their terrorist acts are based on the supposition that if the Jews in Palestine show themselves capable of waging war and thus make the use of the base untenable the British will fall in with their wishes and hand over Palestine to their control.

This does not, however, take into account the fact that the Palestinian Arabs do not stand alone, but are backed by the Arab Federation plus the might of Great Britain. A bloody civil war therefore is not unlikely if their present terrorism continues. Dissension also exists among the Jews. The Jewish Agency has pledged itself to reduce terrorism and it was reported in the Daily Telegraph (November 11th, 1946) that the Haganah, the Jewish defence organisation, had begun an underground war to suppress the terrorist organisations, the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvail Leumi.

The real solution of the Jewish problem seems distant. It does not lie in terrorism nor yet in partition. The problem will remain while capitalism remains. The working class, whether they be Jews or Arabs, must free themselves from the chains of nationalism and tackle their class problem on the basis of Socialist understanding. Nationalism is a cloak that covers the real aims and interests of the ruling class of the major capitalist countries and is a hindrance to the development of a Socialist movement. International comradeship for a Socialist world may seem at the moment a long way off; but it must come if we are to survive. Koestler’s acceptance of terrorism as a solution to the problem of Palestine (and he appears to accept it as such, in this book) helps nobody.
W. P.


On The Air! Or In The Air? (1947)

From the January 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In the Daily Herald Hannen Swaffer writes: “So ‘narrow' is the B.B.C. supposed to be politically that I have been congratulated by more than one M.P. on my ‘artfulness’ in introducing into my ‘birthday party’ in ‘Monday Night at Eight’ a talk in which I assured young John Clark—he plays 'Just William’ on the air—that he is not facing an age of slavery but an era of broader freedom.” (Daily Herald, November 4th. 1946.)

Of course, an assurance by Hannen Swaffer, or anyone else, of an era of “broader freedom” without facts to justify it, is simply a matter of opinion and carries no weight. All that Swaffer did was to register his belief that the Labour Government would bring about that happy state of affairs. And, further, to repudiate the Tory suggestion that nationalisation would usher in the servile state. How far do the Labour Party’s achievements to date support his assumption?

Take, for instance, the drive for greater production. It is safe to say that the Tories would have met with less success in persuading the workers to greater efforts. But greater effort means intensification of labour. Whether the workers are driven by the threat of unemployment, or deceived by ambitious politicians and trade union leaders, the result is the same. The wage-slaves' are sunk to lower depths of enslavement, instead of being raised to a “broader freedom.” 

Accepting profit as the motive justifying capital expenditure, the Labour Government—backed by the Communists—have stressed the purely capitalist need to export in order to obtain imports. Under Socialism where production would be democratically controlled by the people, producing for themselves, no such complications could arise. Balance of exports and imports and maintaing profits and the balance of power would be things of the past, the only power necessary being labour power, and that no longer a commodity. It is the abolition of this commodity character of human labour power that is the Socialist objective.

But the Labour Government, while proclaiming a Socialist objective, are compelled to use their power to intensify capitalist exploitation, so that their “road to Socialism” appears to be the road to ever worsening conditions. Up to the present neither the Labour Government, nor the Labour Party, has ever shown how Socialism can be achieved except by making Socialists, a task they have always shirked.

In spite of their assertion that we have “Socialism,” human energy is still a commodity, bought and sold on the labour market. It is, as always, the workers only possession that can be changed into cash. Only by the sale of that commodity can the worker obtain wage or salary with which to buy the necessities of life. The normal condition on the labour market is a limited demand for the labour commodity. A condition that places the capitalist in an advantageous position in fixing wages.

It is only at times when there is an abnormal demand for labour that the workers are in a favoured position to increase wages. Such a position is, according to the spokesmen of all parties, prevalent now, yet the Government, assisted by the trade union leaders, are using all their powers of persuasion to prevent the workers from taking advantage of the situation. Why? Because the policy on which they were returned to power is increased trade by way of more efficient machinery and more work. And they are forced to argue that prosperous trade for the capitalist means prosperity for the workers, an argument that is plausible but only true to a strictly limited extent, and even to that extent entirely dependent on the efforts of the workers themselves.

No! Hannen Swaffer’s opinion of an era of “broader freedom” is only wishful thinking. A “broader freedom” for the mass of the people—the working class—cannot be achieved by concentrating their efforts on a drive for increased world trade in their masters’ interests. That way lies fiercer and ever fiercer competition, with the workers’ share of the increased production always anchored to the cost of living. Their “era of a broader freedom” must always recede into the distant future while they neglect to study Socialism. Because only Socialism with common ownership in the means of fife and democratic control by the people as a whole, can give us an “era of broader freedom” and emancipate us from the servile capitalist state.
F. Foan

Sugar Rush (2011)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has appeared on our screens. The main character is Willy Wonka, who sits at the heart of his gleaming business empire. One day, he decides to hold a competition to lure the greediest children into his exclusive world. In a cruel endurance test, the selected kids are picked off one-by-one until the winner is rewarded with their own company. In the BBC’s new version, the affable-yet-intimidating Willy Wonka is played by Lord Alan Sugar and they’ve changed the title to Young Apprentice.

This is really a youthful spin-off from The Apprentice, of course. But that shouldn’t stop the estate of Roald Dahl from claiming royalties. In both Apprentice shows the contestants divide into teams which compete to make the most money. Their tasks are usually to market and sell a product: ice creams in week one, baby products in week two. Each week, a member of the losing team is ‘fired’ by the pointing of Lord Sugar’s chubby finger. Oompa-Loompa co-judges Nick Hewer and Karren Brady unfortunately don’t break into song after each contestant leaves. Instead, they sit disapprovingly in the background, occasionally raising an eyebrow when someone says something crass, such as claiming a flower arrangement had “rainforest chic”.

The teenagers taking part are all of the Veruca Salt variety: over-confident, self-obsessed and as irritating as sandpaper underwear. They all speak in vomit-inducing slogans from motivational posters: “I’m not focused on making friends, I’m focused on getting to my goals”, “I’m a ball of enthusiasm waiting to explode”. In fact, they don’t behave much differently to their pound-sign-eyed older counterparts in The Apprentice, and that’s what’s most unsettling. People are rightly concerned about children being exposed to sexual or violent influences. But why aren’t more of us also worried about how they can be corrupted by the world of big business? Why should children aspire to be money-hungry power-dressers with a permanent sneer? On a visit to London’s Natural History Museum, one contestant announced “I hate both nature and history but if it makes money then I’ll get to like it”.

And during a task to flog gadgets to the over 50s, another said “old people do just wanna like sorta dash their money ‘cos they just don’t see the point in saving any more”. Sadly, the winner of Young Apprentice will be the one who takes these attitudes furthest.

Perhaps they’ll use their winnings to open a chocolate factory?
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Stalin – the God Who Fell (2011)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

For Stalin, the final disgrace.

His simple grave now mocks the memory of the days when he was the great dictator, who could make Krushchev caper like a court jester.

It mocks, too, the memory of the fulsome praise that was heaped upon him when his pitiless rule was at its height. Here is part of a poem which was published in Pravda on August 28th, 1936:
O Great Stalin, O Leader of the Peoples,
Thou who didst give birth to man,
Thou who didst make fertile the earth,
Thou who dost rejuvenate the Centuries.
Thou who givest blossom to the spring, . . .
And this is Krushchev himself, speaking at the eighteenth Congress in 1938 on the extermination of Stalin’s opponents:
  ‘. . . Our victory in defeating the fascist agents—all these despicable trotskyists, bukharinists and bourgeois nationalists—we owe above all to the personal effort of our great leader, comrade Stalin. . . . Long live the towering genius of all humanity, the teacher and the guide who is leading us victoriously to Communism, our beloved comrade Stalin.’
Now that the truth about the “beloved comrade” is officially acknowledged in Moscow, we can expect some more rewriting of history, just as it was when Stalin wanted to eliminate the memory of his enemies.

In England the Communist Party will be in confusion for some time. Always taking their line from Moscow, they were among Stalin’s worshippers, and disregarded the facts about the Russian dictator which Socialists, and others put before them. The latest change of policy will be hard to swallow, even for them.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1961)

Voice From The Back: A Sick Society (2012)

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

A Sick Society
The owning class are always seeking ways of increasing their profit margins and one way of doing that is by decreasing their expenditure on welfare and health. “People should be signed off for long-term sickness by an independent assessment service not GPs, a government-backed review says. The review also suggests tax breaks for firms which employ people who suffer from long-term conditions. It is estimated the changes would send 20% of those off sick back to work.” (BBC News, 19 November) In sickness and health the working class must be kept toiling to keep those profits rolling in.


Figures Don’t Lie
Politicians like to claim that under their benign guidance we are all better off but what do their own statisticians find? “New figures from the Office of National Statistics show that average salaries in the UK have fallen by 3.5% in real terms as pay rises fail to keep pace with inflation. An average full-time employee earned £26,200 in the year to April, up 1.4% on the previous 12 months. However, with inflation running at 5%, that amounts to a pay cut” (The Week, 23 November). It is true that statistics don’t lie – unlike some politicians.


Optimism And Reality
With the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea many optimists predicted that gas for home heating would cost next to nothing. Another piece of optimistic prediction about the future that was once made was that with the great technological advances we would soon enjoy a much shorter working week and we would all be retiring a lot sooner. A glance at your last gas bill shows the hollowness of the first prediction, but even wider of the mark was the second one. “More than 6 million (28%) of today’s over-50s expect to work past the state retirement age, according to the working late index compiled by LV. They expect to work an extra six years, the retirement specialists said” (Sunday Times, 27 November). The realities of capitalism often leave the optimists looking foolish


A Family Man?
The Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is fond of the role of “the family man” and is often reported as praising “family values”,  but the realities of capitalism show just how hollow such claims are. “British families are suffering the worst squeeze in living standards for more than half a century, and will be no better off in 2016 than they were in 2002. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed yesterday that the average family on middle income will have £2,496 less to spend next year than three years ago” (Times, 1 December). Mr Cameron’s  family will probably survive though, don’t know about yours!


Hard Times?
Everyone is aware that we are living in hard times, the media tells us this everyday, but it is not too tough for some people. “This huge superyacht is so sleek you’d almost be forgiven for mistaking it for a floating limousine. This is no coincidence – the ‘Sovereign’ yacht is based on the design of a limo, and even comes with its own matching car. And the vessel fit for a king could be yours, if you’re willing to shell out a mere $132million – that’s £85million” (Daily Mail, 3 December). They are not making such things unless they know that some extremely rich people are potential customers.


Bighead Blows It
Up to two million workers went on strike on 30 November and on the BBC programme, The One Show, Jeremy Clarkson the BBC motoring correspondent had this to say about the strikers: “Frankly, I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?” (BBC News, 1 December) Let us just hope for Jeremy’s sake he doesn’t have a road accident on one of those overpriced super-charged motor cars of his and has to rely on the attention of an ambulance driver or a nurse who can remember that particular piece of arrogant bombast.


The Gnomes of the Market (2012)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Eurozone is an economic area in which 17 different countries have agreed to use a common currency, both internally and externally. In the years between 2002 when it was introduced until the crash of 2008 the economies of these countries were growing and investors (largely banks) were prepared to lend the governments their money to cover their budget deficits by purchasing their bonds. They took the view that their money was safe as the governments would be able to pay the interest and repay the loan out of future tax revenues.

The crisis upset this as economic growth, and tax revenues from it, fell. Some Eurozone countries had borrowed an amount that was higher in relation to their GDP than others and so were harder hit. They are now denounced in the financial pages of the press (generally more favourable to creditors than debtors) for having been “profligate”.

Creditors began to fear for the repayment of their loans and brought pressure to bear on the governments concerned by refusing to lend them more except at higher, penal rates of interest. They have gone farther, making it a condition for future lending at lower rates that the governments cut their spending so as to have the money to repay any loans. They picked off the governments one by one: Ireland, then Portugal, then Greece; and now Italy, with Spain and even France possibly next.

All this has been done impersonally through “the markets” but not the less effectively for that. The debtors are not entirely at the mercy of the creditors because they always have the nuclear option of bringing the whole house down by defaulting; in which case the creditors would lose all or most of their money.

So creditors have an interest in not pushing the debtors too far and in coming to some arrangement which will ensure that they get most of their money back, eventually.

These negotiations have taken place through governments (rather than being left to “the markets”) and have resulted in the holders of Greek government debt agreeing to being repaid over a longer period and even to a “haircut”, i.e. the writing off of some of the debt.

Critics of the euro have gleefully shouted “we told you so”. Here for example is the Times on 7 November: “Greece’s crisis might have been a localised problem rather than a continental threat, but it has been aggravated by the common currency. It has also been rendered more difficult to resolve owing to the inability of weaker Eurozone members to devalue their currency and thereby secure an adjustment in living  standards.”

A downward adjustment, that is. Depreciating a currency (these days by letting its value float downwards rather than a formal devaluation as in the days of fixed exchange rates) leads to imports costing more, so reducing living standards that way.

Despite the political rhetoric, it is not certain whether the British capitalist class really wants a return to a situation where some of its major European competitors, France, Italy, Spain, would be free to let their restored national currencies float downwards, so making their exports cheaper. One of the reasons Britain stayed out of the euro was precisely to retain the flexibility to do this, knowing that their competitors couldn’t.

The Times admits that Greece would still have had to reduce living standards even if it hadn’t been in the euro. So, it’s a question of damned if you’re in the euro and damned if you’re not. In other words, it’s not being in the euro that’s the problem, but being in a capitalist world. After all, Britain is not in the euro but the government is still having to impose austerity.

Look out. He’s behind you! (2012)

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

Right! That's Christmas over and done with. We’ve had enough mince pies, mistletoe and baby Jesus to keep us going till next December when the whole bloody farce kicks off again. It’s pantomime season now, so let’s take a look at one of religion’s other comic characters.

Every good pantomime has its villain, and the Catholic Church is no exception. This baddie doesn’t usually get a look in over Christmas, but recently he’s been back in the news. It’s our old friend Satan.

If you’ve been possessed by the devil recently, Father Gabriele Amorth is the man you need. He’s been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and claims to have carried out 70,000 exorcisms. (And in case you haven’t got a calculator handy, that’s 2,800 a year or 7.67 exorcisms per day, seven days a week). And some people say the clergy don’t earn their money.

Father Amorth hit the headlines back in March 2010 when he informed the Telegraph online that people possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron. And the Catholic sex abuse scandals happened, he said, because Satan had managed to get a foot in the door at the Vatican. “The Devil resides in the Vatican and you can see the consequences”. “He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages.” “At times he makes fun of me. But I’m a man who is happy in his work.”

Nevertheless, he reported, there were now “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the demon”. Fortunately, he reassured us, “His Holiness believes wholeheartedly in the practice of exorcism”.

In November the Telegraph again reported Father Amorth’s concerns. “Practicing yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” we were told. Science, he said, was incapable of explaining evil. “It’s not worth a jot.” Even children who are possessed gain superhuman strength, he explained, and have to be held down by up to four people. Perhaps this is not the best example he could have given. The image of a child being held down by four sweaty priests won’t do much to help his case.

What Satan makes of all this, goodness only knows, but he’s probably not too concerned. There’s no way they’re going to get rid of him. Think of all those priests, rabbis, mullahs, etc it would throw out of work.

In fact, Satan has his own church now, and a website. See www.churchofsatan.com. “Our members span an amazing political spectrum,” the blurb informs us. They include “Libertarians, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Reform Party members, Independents, Capitalists, Socialists, Communists, Stalinists, Leninists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Zionists, Monarchists, Fascists, Anarchists and just about anything else you could possibly imagine”.

Hmm, not sure about the “socialists” or “communists”. Other than that, though, they sound a right bundle of fun. Questions on their membership application include:
  • Are you satisfied with your sex life?
  • How many years would you like to live?
  • Do you feel oppressed or persecuted in any way?

No wonder the Catholic Church’s chief exorcist is confused.
NW

Tiny Tips (2012)

The Tiny Tips column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Saudi authorities have executed a woman convicted of practicing magic and sorcery:
[Dead Link]

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In Indonesia the province of Aceh adheres to the strict precepts of Sharia law. If caught by the religious police, residents face public flogging and prison. Still, the rich have ways around it:

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A shoulder-mounted laser that emits a blinding wall of light capable of repelling rioters is to be trialled by police under preparations to prevent a repeat of this summer’s looting and arson:

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Rather than asking how the financiers would make a living if we forbade interest, we should be asking, “why have financiers at all?” We are the only species on the planet that uses money. Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?

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It’s an old dream among anthropologists — one that goes back to Rousseau. In 1968, Graeber’s own teacher, Marshall Sahlins, wrote an essay, “The Original Affluent Society,” which maintained that the hunters and gatherers of the Paleolithic period rejected the “Neolithic Great Leap Forward” because they correctly saw that the advancements it promised in tool-making and agriculture would reduce their leisure time. Graeber approves. He thinks it’s a mistake when unions ask for higher wages when they should go back to picketing for fewer working hours:

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The results of an experiment in which rats opened a door to free trapped cage-mates astonished scientists. No reward was needed and not even the lure of chocolate distracted the rescuing rats. ‘’This is the first evidence of helping behaviour triggered by empathy in rats,’’ said US study leader Professor Jean Decety:

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According to current estimates, Indian men outnumber women by nearly 40 million. That startling gender gap, activists say, is the result of gendercide. Nearly 50,000 female fetuses are aborted every month and untold numbers of baby girls are abandoned or murdered. “It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India,” said women’s rights activist Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide. Part of the reason is money. Girls are a financial burden to their parents, who must pay expensive dowries to marry them off:

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Every now and again, one reads an editorial that stops the reader in his tracks. On 8 December, with the headline “War Inevitable To Tackle Indian Water Aggression,” Pakistan’s Urdu-language Nawa-e Waqt, issued such a screed. Nawa-e Waqt bluntly commented on India’s Kashmiri water polices and Islamabad’s failure up to now to stop New Delhi’s efforts to construct hydroelectric dams in Kashmir, “India should be forcibly prevented from constructing these dams. If it fails to constrain itself, we should not hesitate in launching nuclear war because there is no solution except this.”

Greasy Pole: Theresa May . . . or May Not? (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

When things are that desperate it is worth trying anything. Which is why the voters swing from one discredited party to another and back again and why they have at times experimented by trying women to lead the government instead of the wearily ineffective men. But then came the real experience of Golda Meir, Angela Merkel, and Maggie Thatcher.  And now, there is Theresa May, the first  female chair of the Conservative Party and, after holding other lesser roles,  Home Secretary – only the second woman to land in what one of its incumbents, Jack Straw, once called a “ministerial graveyard”. The first female to be there was Labour’s Jacqui Smith who will not wish to go down in history as a minister who claimed parliamentary expenses for the cost of her husband watching television pornography.

On that matter, a media-gratifying coincidence revealed that Theresa May’s name is close enough to that of a soft-porn actor, known as Teresa (without the h) May, to cause some embarrassment but Theresa (with the h) brushed it aside by allowing only that, “We do get telephone calls from time to time from people who want to book me to do programmes which are perhaps not about politics . . . She may think it slightly estranged that some people might like to earn their living as a politician”. Indeed. But Teresa (without the h) might think it more than slightly strange that politicians should adopt such a self-justifying attitude on an issue such as pornography when the living which they “earn” relies on established venality with no regard for the suffering of the people they are elected to represent. All this suggests that there is no significant difference between their way of getting a living and hers. Theresa (with the h) May is married to a banker, they live in the lush rural beauty of Berkshire and between them they own two houses worth £1.6 million. She signalled her moving up the Greasy Pole by changing her wear for designer products, notably her shoes; “She is,” rhapsodised her press officer, “the most glamorous woman in the House of Commons”.

“Rising star” was how one journalist assessed her as she emerged onto the Front Bench. Industrious self-publicist Boris Johnson recorded, as an MP, “ . . . the upcoming bĂȘte noire as I spotted some months ago … even John Bercow was fulsome”. But the Daily Telegraph was not ecstatic on her elevation to Shadow Secretary for Education and Employment: “…while she is clearly competent she has done little that obviously merits so swift an ascent”. And now there is some cause to question whether she and her pretty shoes and pricey dresses have not persuaded her to overreach her political safety zone. For since she attained the heights of the Home Office she has been linked – to put it mildly – to enough blunders, misjudgements and clumsy handling of delicate issues to suggest that she is a serious candidate as a victim of Cameron’s first reshuffle. If that happens there will be much referring back to her speech to the Tory conference in 2002 when she suggested to the constituency members that their electoral failure could be something to do with the fact that the voters saw them as “the nasty party”. That was a phrase which has become attached to her very name regardless of the fact that a party which tries to be “nice” will not survive very long its exposure as politically useless to the requirements of capitalism.

As Jack Straw and not a few others quickly found out, the Home Office is no place for impulsive, ill-informed decision-taking. In these terms, Theresa May has not succeeded where others have failed. Rather, there is some evidence that when in difficulty she tends to bend the truth and shovel responsibility onto others. Last October she spoke at the Conservative Party conference on one of her favourite obsessions – abolishing the Human Rights Act. What she said went down very well with her audience for she gave an example of an illegal immigrant who came from Bolivia in 2009 and recently won an appeal against a Home Office attempt to deport him “…because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat”. This was eagerly accepted by the assembled Tories, and the headline-writers got busy. There was, however, a drawback. The Royal Courts of Justice, which had allowed the appeal, stated that the grounds were that the man was in a stable, genuine family relationship with a British woman and the cat was not material in the case but only one of the pieces of evidence. To make it worse for May, the case did not involve the Human Rights Act; the appeal succeeded on the grounds that the attempt to deport the man contradicted an established Home Office policy. There was more embarrassment for May when Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke weighed in with his opinion that her speech was “laughable and childlike”. All in all, not a good day at the Home Office for her.

And that was not the end of it. Another crisis was the policy of temporarily suspending immigration checks at airports when they are under pressure. News about this was seen likely to encourage a vengeful neurosis among the voters who feared the country being invaded by welfare-seeking cat-owners from places like Bolivia and suicide bombers ready fitted up with their devices. On the hook over this, May tried to pass her responsibility in the Commons and at the Home Affairs Select Committee, onto unauthorised decisions by the man in charge, one Brodie Clark – who denied May’s accusation and, taking such pride in his 40-year record as a civil servant, resigned his job, had his say to that same committee and announced that he would be taking out an action for constructive dismissal. The matter has yet to be resolved.

The Home Office was once described by a Home Secretary as “not fit for purpose”. He got it partly right, except that it is not just a ministry or a government with that problem. The society outside the ministry’s doors is constructed and conditioned to operate against the interests of the majority of its people, while those who attain positions of power soon learn to develop the techniques of passing the buck – onto other people or onto details such as the gender of those rulers. If we are to deal with all aspects of social dislocation it is necessary to begin from a more sustainable basis.
Ivan

Rouble-makers - Part 2 (2012)

From the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard


The concluding part of our article on how some capitalists originally accumulated their capital.
Roman Abramovich grew up poor: both his parents died when he was young, and he was brought up by an uncle. He was nothing out of the ordinary at school or in the army where, after two years, he was still a private; though as a soldier he is said to have sold contraband petrol to the officers of his unit. He married young and “married well” as the phrase is, because his wife’s parents gave the newlyweds a wedding present of 2000 roubles, worth at the time about £1000 (which was more valuable then than now). With this starting capital he set himself up as a street trader, selling plastic ducks. Abramovich’s present fortune is about ten thousand million pounds, so one’s first thought is that he must have sold a lot of them. Reports suggest that the ducks (which could be relied on not to quack) were smuggled in, thus avoiding the due taxes and increasing the resulting profits. (All this private buying and selling was then illegal, of course.)

Abramovich then went into trading automobile parts, retreaded tyres, other plastic toys and commodities generally. But the significant fact is that Abramovich was twenty when Gorbachev came to power, and small private businesses became tolerated. So Abramovich began making plastic dolls.  This, in our society, means that he was able to organize other people into making plastic dolls which he then sold, keeping the surplus value. Soon Abramovich was forming and liquidating numerous companies: he was into bodyguard recruitment, pig farms, and trading in oil and oil products. As one of the first out of the starting gates into private merchandising he was now making a lot of money – though some press reports claim it was not always along completely legal channels. There were occasional setbacks. In 1992 a goods train arrived in Moscow carrying diesel worth 3.8 million roubles. Abramovich met it and gave instructions for a different destination. He was arrested, charged with stealing state property and held in prison. But the people who got the oil duly paid for it, so Abramovich got out of jail and it was all forgotten.

Abramovich got to know Pyotr Aven, businessman and politician, who was in 1992 the Minister for External Economic Relations and, in 1994, the President of the Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest. On Aven’s yacht Abramovich met an even greater personage, Boris Berezovsky, who was in Yeltsin’s inner circle.

Abramovich made sure he became close to Berezovsky: their families even holidayed together. Berezovsky provided Abramovich with what is known in Russia as “krysha”, literally meaning roof: that is, with contacts, with political protection and, indeed, with a connection to the very centre of Russia’s government – to Yeltsin and Yeltsin’s friends. Berezovsky became Abramovich’s “godfather”.

Abramovich paid for this personal line to the centre of power with vast amounts of money: according to Abramovich on the witness stand in the current case, he paid Berezovsky during the 1990s no less than 2.5 billion dollars – well over a billion pounds (Times, 11 November). It was money well spent, since the 1990s was the decade when Yeltsin was disposing of Russia’s state industries. After cosying up to Berezovsky, Abramovich now cosied up to Yeltsin and his entourage, including his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and his security chief Alexander Korzhakov. Soon he had an apartment in the Kremlin and was proving the truth of the old saying – it’s who you know that counts.

Yeltsin had come to power in 1991 when, like many other politicians, he was going to make everything fine for everybody. A year or two later (like many other politicians) he was despised as a failure. In 1996 he had to stand for re-election. He desperately needed money to finance a political come-back. Various auctions were held of state assets. Abramovich wanted to get hold of Russia’s oil industry – refineries, exploration enterprises, marketing company, everything – in a new entity called Sibneft. Abramovich’s witness statement to the court says, “Mr Berezovsky helped him acquire Sibneft in one of several rigged government auctions. These privatizations . . . allowed a group of oligarchs to gain control of vast state assets relatively cheaply in return for supporting Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign” (Times, 29 October). These are Abramovich’s own words, very carefully considered – telling untruths in a court case would rank as perjury, so he must have felt sure of what he wrote down. Since another Russian company, Gazprom, bought 73% of Sibneft in 2005 for 13.1 billion dollars, which would value the whole of Sibneft at 17.9 billion dollars, or at least a hundred times as much as Abramovich paid for it, one can agree that it was bought “relatively cheaply” and that the government auction must indeed, to use Abramovich’s word, have been “rigged”. In court, Berezovsky’s lawyer said that “an oil refinery manager who had opposed the deal that underpinned Mr Abramovich’s initial fortune had ‘died in difficult circumstances . . . he drowned’. Tantalizingly, no further detail was given” (Times, 2 November).

Abramovich moved on to consider the Russian aluminium industry. He said in his witness statement: “Prior to 2000, the Russian aluminium industry was disorganized, its assets were split between a number of different owners, and some of the players in the industry resorted to forceful methods and violence to protect their interests.” So he “was not keen to get involved in the industry, given its violent and unstable history. Criminal groups were fighting fierce battles for control of the profits generated . . . and dozens of businessmen had been killed in this struggle for control.” In fact, “someone was murdered ‘every three days’ at that time”. This period became known as “the aluminium wars.” However, another oligarch, Badri Patarkatsishvili, persuaded Abramovich to go for it, in return for the small consideration of half a billion dollars for his help as an intermediary. (Patarkatsishvili unfortunately died suddenly at his Surrey mansion in 2008, aged only 52, the very day after sending an urgent message to Abramovich saying, “he had something very alarming to tell me, and asking me to meet him urgently.” They decided it must have been a heart attack.) Abramovich, in alliance with another oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, successfully acquired Russia’s aluminium industry. Subsequently he extended his holdings in other Russian industries.

Deripaska, of course, was the man who hosted a holiday party on his luxury yacht in the eastern Mediterranean in 2008. The guests included Nathaniel Rothschild, George Osborne and Peter Mandelson. Mandelson was then the EU Trade Commissioner, and the EU had reduced aluminium tariffs, thus benefiting Deripaska. Some commentators alleged that it was inappropriate for Mandelson to accept Deripaska’s hospitality, but probably they were annoyed at not having been invited to sunbathe on the yacht. Others claimed that Osborne tried to get Deripaska to contribute to Conservative Party funds, but no doubt it was all a misunderstanding.

Abramovich insists he has earned his success. His wealth, he said, he had “generated through hard work and by taking risks associated with doing business in Russia”. It is true that some of those hopefuls who started out like Abramovich with the same aim of taking over some of Russia’s state industries have now retired to the nearest cemetery. Some of the men who took “the risks associated with doing business in Russia” are no longer with us; they have died of “lead poisoning”, to use the old euphemism, unless it was suspected that more exotic means of settling business disputes had been employed. And it is certainly true that all wealth is generated through “hard work”; it is only necessary to add that the person doing the hard work and the person getting the wealth are not always identical.

Abramovich’s evidence is currently causing raised eyebrows in London’s High Court, as he explains that he often gave out inaccurate information to the public and to potential shareholders, about who really owned his companies (“mainly for reasons of security”), that he signed important business documents which carried an intentionally incorrect date and that some people who signed documents as acquiring shares were not in fact acquiring shares at all – all of which would be offences under English company law. “If backdating documents is something that is not very ethical, then perhaps we can be accused of that. This practice existed in Russia and for sure we have done it,” said Abramovich. “If backdating this agreement is a sham, then so be it,” he told the court. “This is a uniquely Russian story,” Abramovich asserted. Other documents recording purchases, Abramovich told the court, contained the names of people who were supposedly purchasers and recipients of shares but in fact were nothing of the kind. “It is a Russian tradition”, Abramovich told the (somewhat surprised) court. Indeed, some of the state companies apparently were kind enough to give important assistance to the oligarchs who were bidding to take them over. Private Eye (11 November) said: “the puzzled judge did try but failed to get Abramovich to explain exactly why state-owned companies would assist in their own purchase without any written agreement. Another ‘uniquely Russian story’.”

Abramovich is now very close to Putin. He apparently interviewed politicians to see if they were suitable candidates for Putin’s cabinet. Abramovich has become enormously rich and, not surprisingly, has a squad of forty security officers to look after his personal safety. According to the Daily Mail earlier this year, he has four homes in Russia, two in the U.S., and three in France. In England he has six flats in Knightsbridge, and the Fyning Hall estate in West Sussex (not to mention a Premier League football team). He also owns the Eclipse, a luxury yacht 560 feet long, which has two swimming pools, two helicopter landing pads, several subsidiary boats or tenders and a submarine. According to reports in the papers, he has several other luxury yachts. He also has a Boeing 767, an Airbus 340, several helicopters, and ten luxury cars – a Porsche, a Rolls, a Ferrari and so on. However, he told the court that he had been “astonished by Mr Berezovsky’s spending habits when they met in 1994, and that he did not want a similar ‘extravagant lifestyle’” (Times, 2 November). So Berezovsky must have been living it up.

In the 2011 Forbes list of the world’s richest men, Abramovich was only the ninth richest man in Russia (where there are now no fewer than 114 dollar billionaires). So there are eight Russians who probably wonder how Abramovich can make do with so few houses, cars, luxury yachts and so on.

In the present clash of the tycoons, Berezovsky claims that the vast amounts of money Abramovich paid him were dividends from Berezovsky’s share of the companies acquired from the state in the 1990s, while Abramovich says they were nothing more than payments for Berezovsky’s services in keeping Abramovich’s name before Yeltsin as an appropriate man when Yeltsin wanted to make more money out of state assets. These matters will not be easy to decide when whole industries changed hands with little more than a nod and a wink, or in transactions recorded at best in documents which were unfortunately false as to date, and as to personnel, and as to share-holdings. (“It is a Russian tradition.”)

Several other cases involving the Russian oligarchs are down for early hearings in London. But surely any unbiased person who reads the reports of the current case must, on the facts revealed there alone, abandon any support of capitalism. The courts and the judges and the lawyers can argue till the cows come home about whether one oligarch has done the dirty on another, or whether one oligarch ought to have a few billion more and another oligarch a few billion less. It all misses the essential point completely. What these two oligarchs are arguing about is not about creating industry: the Russian oil industry existed and still exists; the Russian aluminium industry existed and still exists. Nothing in all these nefarious dealings in Moscow altered the basic facts of those industries. All this laborious and expensive squabbling in London is concerned with one thing only: which extremely rich person shall have more of the surplus value produced by these industries, and which shall have less. As Abramovich himself said in the courtroom about the Russian aluminium industry, “criminal groups were fighting fierce battles for control of the profits generated”. Not a single voice has been heard, either in the courtroom or in the lengthy reports of the proceedings in the papers, asking the essential question: why should the Russian oil-workers and the Russian aluminium-workers go to their work every day and produce oil and aluminium, and have so much of their hard work creamed off to in order to provide disgustingly extravagant luxury for people who probably couldn’t even explain what it is the oil-workers and the aluminium-workers do.

But then, that is what capitalism, whether the state variety or the private variety, is all about.
Alwyn Edgar