Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Letters: Nuclear power (2011)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nuclear power
 
Dear Editors,

Re Pathfinders in the July issue. Since 1960 all aircraft carriers and since 1955 all submarines in the United States Navy have been nuclear-powered. Their safety record (I understand) is impeccable, although one must remember that this is a “not-for-profit” organization.
 
The history of steam boilers in the 19th century was one of explosions on locomotives, factories and ships until effective standards of design were recognized.
 
Uses were found for boiler waste – ash and clinker from coal was used for breeze blocks, soot for fertilizer.
 
Surely with world socialism standards for reactors would be advanced and uses found for nuclear waste?
Fred Moore, 
Canterbury
 

Reply: 
Your suggestion that socialism might develop safer and more reliable nuclear reactors is certainly reasonable, given that it wouldn’t be trying to do nuclear on the cheap and skimping safety standards in favour of bigger profits. However nuclear power is not so nearly carbon efficient when one factors in build and decommissioning costs. It’s also difficult to imagine how one could dispose of or indeed utilise waste which is toxic for tens of thousands of years, in any social system or with any known science. The most tempting solution would be to lob the stuff into space, however the consequences of a rocket explosion on launch or in the stratosphere hardly bear thinking about. Socialism might very well decide, for this reason alone, that nuclear power is just too hot to handle and look to a combination of other technologies, including reduction in energy consumption. – Edtiors


Plainer English
 
Dear Editors,
 
Thank you for publishing my letter on plain English in the July Socialist Standard. Unfortunately (and also ironically, given the subject-matter), you omitted part of a sentence in the editing/typesetting process, leaving it meaningless. The sentence in question actually read as follows in my original email (the section omitted is highlighted in italics):
 
An “issue” is a bone of contention, but there is certainly no contention (at least among socialists) that a lack of money in the capitalist world is nothing less than a major problem for the vast majority of the population suffering from the affliction.
Martyn Dunmore,
Brussels, Belgium. 


Closed-minded academics

Dear Editors,
 
It is infuriating to listen to those sociologists and similar ‘social scientists’, particularly the contributors Professor Laurie Taylor has on his Thinking Allowed programme (BBC Radio 4). These academic circles define the world in a multitude of classes, minutiae of people’s behaviour and so on. They publish books etc on post-communist societies and countries, which reinforce the view that communism has existed. These learned intellectuals stick to the accepted view that communism equals totalitarian state government with central control by a ruling elite. In their lazy thinking that’s it and any advance can only be to liberal democracy or, if they are a little radical, to social democracy.
 
These so-called intellectuals have never bothered to address what is communism/socialism. They don’t seem willing to make the effort to find what Marx and others meant in defining communism/socialism. Because they are part of the intellectual establishment and its output of publications reinforcing stereotypes, they effectively lie or at least mislead about the real meaning. 
 
These people give legitimacy to the view that communism/socialism has existed and is now replaced with a better system. They obfuscate the definition of Marxism on the grounds that we have moved on to the better system of ‘democracy’ but they also misrepresent even this. How do we attack these closed-minded academics and get them to try original thought to their convoluted and erroneous conclusions?
Stuart Gibson, 
Wimborne, Dorset
 

Resource database
 
Dear Editors,
 
Congratulations to Stefan on the excellent article, ‘Money – a waste of resources’ (Socialist Standard, July). In my view this is just the sort of empirical approach needed to clinch the argument for socialism, and one that I’ve promoted via www.andycox1953.webs.com.
 
Theory has its place, but let’s face it, more often than not, a theoretical exposition on Marx’s labour theory of value or the class struggle is likely to be met with a snort of derision or a glazed expression. Facts on the other hand have a kind of primacy that demands a considered response. Hence the urgent need for a robust, wide-ranging, and up-to-date database which Socialist Party members and others can access. 
 
A word of caution, however, should be added at this juncture: When constructing a database, one is likely to come across countless factual inconsistencies. Stefan’s source, for example, has it that there are ‘145,000 people working at casinos and other gambling joints (in the US)’. In my webs.com database, I cite a source (‘Economic Impacts of Commercial Casinos and On-Line Gambling’ by Alijani, Braden, Omar and Eweni, 2002 (?)) which produces statistics showing that there were 364,804 commercial casino jobs in the US in 2001 (205,151 in Nevada alone). 
Andy Cox (by email)

Greasy Pole: Hacking? Who’s hacking? (2011)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 

“Sundays won’t be the same again,” whined the Political Editor. Or rather the ex-political editor of the abruptly defunct, paedophilia-hounding, police officer-corrupting, phone-hacking, record-circulating News Of The World. No more blearily turning the pages for a weekly dose of insight into the chaotic privacy of a select few handily grouped under the shield of celebrity. No more envious excursions into a growingly denser jungle where the more luxurious the undergrowth the larger the financial profit. Never the same again? Are there any who would be ungrateful for such a small mercy? Even accepting that it came swaddled in breathtaking hypocrisy?
 
BSkyB
 The earlier reaction to Rupert Murdoch ending the News Of The World was that it was the tycoon’s punitive response to the exposure of the paper’s habitual intrusion into the private lives of anyone liable to be regarded as newsworthy through hacking into their telephones. However within an hour or so a more acceptable explanation came onto the scene. For some years Murdoch’s News International had been manoeuvring to take over the 61 percent of shares it does not hold in BSkyB, which is estimated to yield them some £1 billion profit during the next financial year. It seemed like good balance-sheet sense to help this process by surrendering the News Of The World’s comparatively modest £12 million annual profit – apart from the prospect of the tighter binding of Murdoch’s relationship with the Tory and Labour leaderships, with all that promises in terms of future concessions for his media machine. It is a long time since political leaders have operated with no regard for the ambitions of that fearsome magnate. A long time since a Prime Minister has omitted to invite Murdoch and his underlings to one of those regularly sickening ventures intro terrified sycophancy among the lawns and terraces of Chequers. And, until the events of recent weeks, it was promising to be a long time before that situation changed. 
 
Gotcha
In essence it was a simple strategy. The party leadership and their advisers paid heed to the prejudices, fears and misconceptions which were stimulated by, and advantageous to, the Murdoch operation and calculated that these could be applied to their electoral advantage. In other words, the Murdoch empire could win elections – a theory which might be said to have fitted in with events in this way:
  • 1969 Murdoch buys the News Of The World and the Sun, revamped from the successor to the old Daily Herald. 
  • 1979 The Tories under Margaret Thatcher and supported by the Sun win the general election against an exhausted and demoralised Labour Party.
  • 1981 Thatcher’s government supports Murdoch’s recently formed News Corporation bid to buy the Times and the Sunday Times – with the predictable guarantees of “editorial independence”.
  • 1983 After surviving a number of problems during their early days in power the Tories win an emphatic majority, helped by patriotic hysteria over the Falklands war, marked by the full-page headline in the Sun screaming GOTCHA! over the sinking of the Belgrano. 
  • 1987 Another Tory election win, with a majority reduced probably in reaction to Thatcher’s impending replacement by John Major
  • 1992 John Major, struggling against the Eurosceptics “bastards” in his party, notches up an unexpected election victory. The Sun helps him on his way by devoting its front page to a request that in the event of Neil Kinnock’s Labour winning “…will the last person to leave Britain…turn out the lights”. Then crows that “It was the Sun wot won it.”
  • 1997 With the Tories descending into a confusion of sleaze, economic chaos and scandal Murdoch joins forces with his persistently loyal friend Tony Blair and his party and Labour win the election in a landslide. 
  • 2010 After Murdoch defects to support the Tories, Gordon Brown’s Labour Party loses the election, replaced by a fractious Coalition.
  • 2011 As the hacking scandal breaks into the open previous assumptions about electoral alliances, governmental stability – and the influence of the Murdoch clan – need to be re-assessed. 
 
Profit
 That ex-Political Editor told us why he grieved at the closing of the News Of The World: “Villains, paedophiles and corrupt politicians will be able to sleep more soundly now that the greatest investigative newspaper on Earth has gone.” He did not mention that such newspapers work so devotedly to unearth their scoops in the cause of higher sales, advertising revenue and investment – or that in that process a significant clutch of criminals and corrupt politicians are enabled to stay active. One investor in News Corporation, the Church of England, held £4 million worth of shares overseen by a body incongruously known as the Ethical Investment Advisory Group which described the News Of The World’s hacking campaign as “utterly reprehensible and unethical”. Compared to that, and in the present crisis in the industry, the advice of Murdoch’s favourite son James, chairman of News International, to the 2009 Edinburgh Television Festival, that “the only guarantee of independence is profit” reads as more illuminating and useful – if menacing. Among the terrified hysteria of Westminster, the panic of laggardly journalists and manipulatory police officers, the figures – an expectation of £135 million a year circulation revenue, £38 million advertising income, and, if the bid for BSkyB succeeded there would be an additional £1.6 billion a year – carried more weight than the exotically titled, smugly gambling excuses of the clerics. The simple fact is that what we know as the media, in all its forms, is no different in its need to conform to the rules and demands of a commodity society. Unavoidably, politicians saw it as a priority to foster such ambitions in the assumption that come the next election it would yield a rich harvest of votes. The sudden flooding of these facts into what is known as ‘the public domain’ provoked widespread outrage. Another example of the urgency for the ‘public’ to react in a proper, reparative manner.
Ivan

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thousands of British schoolgirls as young as eight face being taken abroad this summer to have their genitals mutilated and stitched up to preserve “purity”. A campaign by the Metropolitan Police and Foreign Office will suggest that more than 22,000 girls under the age of 15 risk being taken abroad by their family for “cutting”, based on data from The International Centre for Reproductive Health. Girls may have their outer genitals removed and stitched up to preserve their virginity, with an opening as small as a matchstick head, meaning it can take up to 20 minutes to urinate:


Anyone who thinks slavery ended with the 13th Amendment is not paying attention. According to the latest State Department statistics, as many as 100,000 people in the United States are in bondage and perhaps 27 million people worldwide. The numbers are staggering:


Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us [in the USA] has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time (PDF), and paid maternity leave. (The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland.)


Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat. They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. A woman next to Garcia would carve meat off the  back of each head before letting the denuded skull slide down the conveyor and through an opening in a plexiglass shield.

On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease:


Here’s one financial figure some big U.S. companies would rather keep secret: how much more their chief executive makes than the typical worker. Now a group backed by 81 major companies — including McDonald’s, Lowe’s, General Dynamics, American Airlines, IBM and General Mills — is lobbying against new rules that would force disclosure of that comparison. In 1970, average executive pay at the nation’s top companies was 28 times the average worker income. By 2005, executive pay had jumped to 158 times that of the average worker

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Knowledge (2011)

Book Review from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

So You Think You Know about Britain?’ By Danny Dorling. (Constable £8.99)
 
It is often argued that there are too many old people or too many immigrants in Britain, or simply too many people. In this informative and enlightening book, Danny Dorling subjects these and many other commonly-held beliefs to a thorough examination, with frequently-surprising conclusions.
 
The north–south divide has been moving gradually southwards, with more and more areas being categorised as part of the less well-off ‘north’; the dividing line in fact runs diagonally from the Humber to the Severn estuary. On average, if you live on the London side of the line your life expectancy is two years greater than otherwise. Life expectancy is also influenced by many other factors (extra years likely if your father worked in a non-manual occupation, if you have never smoked, if you eat fruit daily, if you have sex at least twice a week, for instance). The north–south divide is now wider than at any time since the 1920s, and is most graphically illustrated by the difference between how long a child born in the most affluent part of London is likely to live as opposed to one born in the poorest part of Glasgow (86.7 versus 74.3 years).
 
Women on average live longer than men, which is why Eastbourne, a popular retirement destination, has 87 men for every 100 women. In other cases, such as Glasgow, a comparable imbalance is caused by men either leaving the area or else dying before they reach retirement age. But women in their late twenties are the most likely to get into debt. And a recession leads to both an increase in emigration and a drop in birth rates, as people are less willing to start a family. 
 
Inequality has increased in various ways, with the incomes of the richest fifth of the population having grown at eight times the rate of the bottom fifth. By 2005, 27 percent of households could be classified as poor, living below the breadline. This poverty is largely geographically-based, but there are no ghettos, in the sense of districts almost exclusively the preserve of one ethnic or cultural group. Yet in England most children who live above the fourth floor in tower blocks are black or Asian.
 
Dorling is well aware that measuring things in terms of profit is not always sensible:
 “British roads, pavements and railway carriages could be far more comfortable places to travel on (and in) if we did not so often judge an activity as worthy only if it makes a profit. We don’t always do this, we don’t always seek only profit, otherwise none of us would have children.”
 This is reinforced by the discovery of the large numbers of unpaid carers, who ‘often visited others’ homes simply to help, for no monetary reward, and often for reasons other than family ties’. There are more carers in places with more people in need of care. So the view, often put forward by supporters of capitalism, that people will not work without being paid in return, is simply untrue. This book not only shows that many beliefs about Britain are wrong – it also discredits a common argument against socialism. 
Paul Bennett

To a Supporter of Capitalism (2011)

From the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of course the things we need to live will have to be produced by someone in socialism. The difference being that, in socialism, the means for producing and distributing these things will belong to us all. They will not be the possessions of a tiny minority of the world’s population. Moreover, our relationship to the means and instruments to this production and distribution will not be an alienated one. As we share in the productive and distributive efforts equally, we will share in the access to the same. As free and equal members of the human species.Anything wrong with that? Not from where I stand.
 
Capitalism, this society you seem so enamoured with, as in a Faustian otherworld, does not work for us, the majority.
 
Ever heard of the wealthy worrying about the price of energy, foodstuffs, housing, their kids’ futures, paying the bills, etc, etc, etc ad-nauseum? No.
 
Getting employment, keeping it? No.
 
Paying the mortgage, or possible mortgage rate rises. Or being penalised for under-occupancy of their homes if they happen to be recipients of what is laughingly called “the benefits” system?  No, didn’t think you had.
 
Moreover, what gives a minority of individuals the right of ownership, of the things that are necessary for us all to live? Things, such as oil, gas, coal, land that existed long before the ancestors of modern man, crawled from the primordial slime?
 
A minority of people today, claim ownership of these things and more and a whole structure of laws and law-enforcement, has grown, to protect the rights of this minority of social parasites. 95 percent or more of laws, are to protect private property, not the person, why?

It is so that this minority can retain their minority ownership, at the expense of the majority of other people.
 
You and others, support a system – capitalism – that is antithetical to the interests of yourselves, your families and indeed to the majority of mankind, without even knowing how this system works and in whose interests. Indeed, workers go as far as laying down their lives to perpetuate this insanity.
 
And you to try to preach about how good this system is?
 
Tell that to the 30 to 40,000 kids under five, who die every day, of starvation or directly attributable disease. 
 
The two billion of our fellow human beings who go to bed hungry every night.
 
The hundreds of millions who have no access to sanitation or clean water.
 
The hundreds of thousands of people, homeless, even in the so-called ‘civilised’ West, in sight of empty houses.
 
A society, where it is more profitable to let fields lie fallow, rather than produce crops for the starving.
 
A society that destroys food, to keep prices high, rather than feed people.
 
You want this insanity? You’ve got it, it’s called capitalism.
Steve Colborn

Fleecing the Flock (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 
 
Whether there is an Indian version of the Sunday Times rich list we don’t know but if there is you’re unlikely to find Lord Vishnu on it – even though the value of just some of his recently disclosed wealth is estimated at well over £12 billion.
 
You might imagine, considering the absolute poverty in India, that this would cause a certain amount of resentment but it doesn’t seem to have done. Lord Vishnu is very popular. What’s more, his method of accumulating wealth is entirely legal, tax free and doesn’t involve any risky re-investments of his capital. People just give him their money. So what’s his secret? Well Vishnu is no ordinary lord.
 
Lord Vishnu, you see, doesn’t actually exist. He’s a Hindu god. His treasure is real enough though. And the recent discovery of six vaults crammed full of gold, silver and precious stones resembles a fantasy story which could have come straight from the pages of the Arabian Nights.
 
Suspecting that the contents of the Padmanabha Swamy temple at Kerala, which contained the offerings made by devotees over the last 500 years, ought to be worth a bob or two, India’s supreme court ordered an inventory. What they found was a vast hoard estimated to be worth £12.6 billion; even before the last of the six secret vaults was opened. “All of Kerala is celebrating this extraordinary find,” said a temple official. And why not? Surely this could finance a few hospitals or schools at the very least?
 
However, as is always the case, the needs of the gods come before human needs. This windfall which appeared to have dropped literally from the lap of a god will probably be snatched, or rather handed, straight back to him. “It belongs to the Padmanabha Swarmy temple and will be preserved there,” said Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister, firmly rejecting the idea that it should be used for public benefit.
 
You have to hand it to religion – literally it seems. Unlike any other business, it simply convinces us to willingly hand over our money. Just to put it in context though, how does this act of generosity compare to the wealth given to some of the US TV evangelists by their gullible followers?
 
The vast Trinity Broadcasting Network run by Paul and Jan Crouch is said to be available on more than 3,200 television stations. It is also involved in religious movie production and owns a number of Christian theme parks.
 
According to Ministry Watch (an evangelical organisation which claims to review ministries for financial accountability and transparency) Trinity Broadcasting’s net assets are $ 859,188,000.

According to Crouch when you donate to Trinity Broadcasting you, in turn, receive a divine financial blessing. “When you give to God, you’re simply loaning to the Lord and he gives it right on back.”
 
A smaller outfit whose net assets are listed as a mere $62,118,000 is the Bible Broadcasting Network. And the list of multi-million dollar bible bashing factories goes on and on.
 
What’s that bit in the bible about it being better to give than to receive?
NW

Debts and Doubts (2011)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The public sector union UNISON has provided its activists with briefing notes on the economic crisis, based on the illustrations used in a talk by Barry Kushner that can be found on YouTube.
 
He shares the illusion that the economy is a tool which governments can manipulate to ensure growth or more equality (or less equality) or whatever. In other words, he ignores the fact that the profit-motivated market economy that is capitalism is governed by economic laws which governments have to accept and apply if they don’t want to provoke an economic crisis.
 
This said, he does make some valid points about the scare stories about the National Debt put out by the present government to justify its austerity programme.
 
The National Debt is the government’s debt and has nothing to do with the debt of the individuals who make up the supposed “nation” (it is not the total of private debts). As such, it is better called the Government Debt (its official name is “Public Sector Net Debt”). Similarly, the Deficit is the government’s. It’s the difference between what it raises through taxes and what it spends, which it has to cover by borrowing. What it spends includes the interest it has to pay on the Government Debt.
 
“We are told,” says Kushner, “that our country was nearly bankrupt, that our debt payments are £120 million per day, that our debt is nearly £1 trillion” and quotes George Osborne as saying on the Andrew Marr show that “we were on the brink of bankruptcy” and another government statement that “our debt is higher than it’s ever been.”
 
The Government (not “our”) Debt is only higher than it’s ever been in nominal (face value) terms, only because £1 trillion today is not the same as £1 trillion in the past. Kushner points out that the usual way of measuring the level of the Debt is to compare it with Gross Domestic Product (basically the value of new wealth created in a year). At the moment, this ratio is around 60 percent. One of Kushner’s graphs shows Government Debt as a percentage of GDP from 1900 to 2010. From 1920 to 1960 it was consistently well over 100 percent; just after WW2 in 1945 it was 261 percent. In other countries it is much higher: 100 percent in the US, 200 percent in Japan
 
The government does not need to be in a position to pay off the whole Government Debt in one go. Since about 80 percent of GDP is made up of what people consume and what the government spends on essential services, 60 percent could not be devoted to repaying the Debt in one year without mass starvation. Most of the Debt is continually renewed as those lending the money to the government want to keep on receiving the interest.
 
Interest payments on the Government Debt are £120 million a day but, at £43.3 billion a year, this is less than 3 percent of GDP, which is easily affordable. Kushner points out that in 1981, under Thatcher, interest payments were in today’s money £174 million a day or over 5 percent of GDP, adding that we “didn’t hear talk of bankruptcy then”.  According to www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_debt, “experts say that when interest payments reach about 12% of GDP then a government will likely default on its debt”. As just seen, the British government’s payments are nowhere near this figure. 
 
There never was any danger of bankruptcy. Osborne was just scaremongering to justify cutting government spending for other reasons. The cuts are being made to try to restore profitability. It’s because saying this openly would not go down well that the government has resorted to the scarce stories and lies about bankruptcy, unsustainable interest payments and the like.

Proper Gander: The pecking order (2011)

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

The pecking order
 
If you’ve ever staggered home from the pub, you may have been lured inside a branch of Southern Fried Chicken looking for something to soak up the alcohol. While the fast food chain is profitable overseas, its two hundred British branches are failing financially. Concerned that the SFC “brand could be damaged”, its owner and managing director Andrew Withers has enlisted the help of Channel Four’s Undercover Boss. This programme films the directors of different organisations as they pretend to be shop-floor staff in their own businesses.
 
Disguised as ‘Jim’, Andrew spends a week in several of his outlets to learn why they have stopped bringing him much money. Predictably, he sees health and safety guidelines being breached because it would be too expensive or otherwise impractical for the franchises to follow them. But at the same time he’s impressed by the efforts of his staff, especially their speed and patience when dealing with their less sober customers. At the end of a late-night shift behind the counter, Andrew says “I didn’t realise the type of customers that come in to these restaurants”. If the owner of a fast food takeaway chain doesn’t realise that many of its punters will be the post-pub crowd, you have to wonder what planet he’s living on.
 
So, Undercover Boss has some worth by highlighting the gulf between the upper and lower ranks of a business. Normally, this distance means that the bosses don’t have to see how their decisions affect those at the foot of the corporate ladder. And these decisions often mean taking away people’s livelihoods, even if they are disguised by euphemisms like ‘restructuring’ or ‘modernisation’. So, when Andrew visits the struggling South Shields outlet his first thought is to withdraw SFC’s involvement and make a report to the Health and Safety executive. Then he is invited to the home of the family who runs the outlet, and realises how hard they work for little financial reward. He’s in a quandary, as his business instincts tell him that the outlet should close, but he also realises that this would ruin the lives of at least half a dozen people. Fortunately for his staff, Andrew has an epiphany and offers to invest in the branch. Whether he would have done the same without meeting them personally or having the cameras film his decision is anybody’s guess.
Mike Foster

Obituary: Thomas D'Arcy (2011)

Obituary from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard  

It is with regret that I have to record the death of a favourite old friend and comrade of mine Tommy D’Arcy. The first time I met Tom would be about 1957. At that time he was the secretary of the Glasgow Kelvingrove Branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. I used to go along to their weekly meetings in a comrade’s house and over the weeks of discussion I became convinced I should join the SPGB. During the questioning of applicants to the SPGB which every member has to endure Tom asked me this question: what in the applicant’s view is the difference between absolute and relative surplus value? Fortunately another member interjected and asked what is the questioners view? Tommy laughed. The rest of the branch laughed and I managed to join the Party. Years later he would laugh about his question on that day and say perhaps I wanted you all to be Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Tom has gone now and we must build on the foundation that he and his fellows built. A great guy, we miss him.
Richard Donnelly

Obituary: Henrietta Vallar (2011)

Obituary from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard  
 
Glasgow Branch are saddened to report the death of long serving member Henrietta Vallar. Henrietta, or Hetty as she was known, came from a socialist family. Her father and both her brothers were Party members and she herself joined the Party in 1953. Up until 2009 when she was overtaken by illness Hetty was a regular attender at branch meetings and was for many years the branch treasurer. She was a regular attender at the Party’s annual conferences and Autumn Delegate Meetings where she often served in the chair on those occasions. Hetty was never a public speaker or debater but she was a hard working regular attending member. It would be impossible to have a political party such as the Socialist Party of Great Britain without stalwart members such as Hetty. She will be sadly missed by all her comrades in Glasgow and elsewhere.
Richard Donnelly

50 Years Ago: The Zionist Movement (2011)

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

The State of Israel, now thirteen years old, has, by Jewish custom, come of age. It is timely, therefore, to attempt an assessment
 
The assumption underlying the Zionist movement was that to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” was the only way to end their age-old persecution, especially under the yoke of the Tsars. This closely mirrored the aspirations of other thwarted nationalities such as the Poles, the Czechs, the Finns and the like. There were, of course, workers who were taken up with this cause but very few of them prior to the first world-war. Cramped into a narrow strip of the vast Russian Empire, the Jewish millions lived almost entirely in the towns, where they formed the majority of the population. They were skilled and unskilled workers; some on the land, more in the factories and workshops; they were porters and cart drivers. Only a minority were merchants of any substance, bankers and factory owners. In this background it was the idea of Anarchism and Social-Democracy that gained the greatest acceptance. The Jewish Labour League, the Bund, which was affiliated to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had as its purpose Jewish cultural autonomy within a Social-Democratic Russia. They saw that on the principle of divide and rule the Tsars had actually fostered anti-semitism. They were convinced that the Jewish problem was a by-product of the private property system and would end with the end of that system. They did not think in terms of a return, to “the promised land” as a solution to their problems. Neither did the Anarchists.
 
(…) national ideals and political reality have never been compatible and never can be. True to form, the territorial demands of one set of Nationalists were diametrically opposed to the demands of the other set. The “solution” of the Jewish problem turned out to be its transference from Europe to the Middle-East.
 
(From the article “Ye Daughters of Israel Weep” by E.S.G., Socialist Standard, August 1961)

Looking Forward. The conflict in Perspective (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

What will be the outcome of the present war, is a question often asked, but seldom answered.

If we are to take a long view of the present conflict, several factors have to be borne in mind. These are—the capitalist nature of present-day society, the geographic factor, industrial power, the new factor, air power, and past developments viewed in perspective.

The capitalist nature of present-day society is a fact. No thinking person nowadays denies that we live in a capitalist era, where goods are produced for profit, where the worker is a mere instrument of production, a seller of labour-power, receiving in return for the expenditure of his energies a wage or salary which, with any allowances he may receive in the shape of free milk, allotments, free holidays, etc., is just about enough to keep him in that state of efficiency which will enable him to perform his work satisfactorily. Practically the whole mechanism of production is carried through by large combines, and these in turn are owned and controlled by often anonymous shareholders. The combine is brought into being as a rule in order to eliminate competition, thus London Transport, the monopolist London traffic combine, and United Dairies, which has now bought out most of the smaller dairies and occupies the dominant position in London and the outlying area. In passing, it should be noted, that it is the introduction of petrol and the development of road transport which has enabled the combine owners of huge petrol-driven milk wagons to obtain their monopolistic hold upon the market and to dictate their terms to the farmer-producers. After the last war there was a fierce struggle between the Shell, the B.P., Standard Oil, and others for the British petroleum market, but finally the smaller companies were forced into the combine, while Russian Oil Products was forced into surrendering a large portion of the market. Finally, B.P. and Shell amalgamated, and thus became the principal competitors of Standard Oil. Then the expensive competition between these two was eased by agreements on quotas, advertising, etc. These are given as examples of the evolutionary development inherent in capitalism to greater and still greater combines.

The mainspring of the economic basis of the modern State is, however, the heavy industry. In this country this is centred in Birmingham, where the ownership of many of the factories is vested in one family, and in the iron and steel mills of South Wales, where again the real ownership and control appears to be vested in very few hands. It is the countries of heavy industry which occupy the dominant place in the world struggle for markets and spheres of influence, as witness Germany, Great Britain and the U.S.A. Russia and Japan are latecomers on the scene, hardly developed as yet, while Japan is mainly a country of light industry—the material factors of heavy industry are wanting. France and Belgium are also heavy industry countries, but on a smaller scale.

Some time before the war, to obviate the intense competition between the two principal European competitors, an arrangement was come to between the iron and steel interests—an arrangement which all good capitalists make from time to time, in order to save the expense of competition and the limitation of profits thereby caused. Such arrangements, in general capitalist procedure, are often the prelude to a combine or amalgamation.

Occupying a slightly different field is the international combine known as Sofina, owning coal, gas, electricity and tramway undertakings in Europe (France, Spain, Belgium and Germany) and in North and South America. The chairman of the standing committee is an American, Dannie Heineman, while the other directors are of French, Belgian, British and Italian nationality. Of these, the Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna is also a director of the Canadian Pacific, the Midland Bank, etc.; Count Volpi, of Venice, is a director of the International Sleeping Car Co. and the Lincolnshire and Central Electric Supply Co., Ltd.; General Sir Hugh Elles is a director of the Pressed Steel Co., Ltd., while Sir Bernard Docker brings the story back to Birmingham with directorships of the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Co., Ltd., and the Birmingham Small Arms Co., Ltd. ; he is also a director of Guardian Assurance Co., Ltd., the Midland Bank, and Thos. Cook & Son, Ltd. The Guardian Assurance Co., Ltd., has a family relationship with the Times Publishing Co., Ltd., by means of the common directorship of the two companies of Mr. John Walter. Another director of Sofina, Lord Wigram, is also a director of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and of the Midland Bank. Of the Midland Bank’s directors, Lord Stamp is also a director of Imperial Chemical Industries, L.M.S. Railway, Abbey Road Building Society and the Bank of England. To come back to Sofina—the alliance between gas and electricity is worth noting—in many cases, both originate from coal. Also, when Belgium was invaded, the headquarters of the company was transferred, not to Germany, but to Great Britain.

The ownership of combines appears to be vested in thousands of private shareholders, but as anyone knows, who has inspected the share books of capitalist concerns, while large numbers of private investors hold five and ten shares each, the great bulk of the shares is often held by holding companies, insurance companies and bank nominees, so that the real owners and controllers, in the background can remain more or less anonymous. The Inland Revenue returns, however, disclose the real position. With the passing of each year the private incomes of the wealthy become greater, while the number of people of great wealth becomes smaller. One can almost visualise the eventual passing of the entire productive wealth of a country and its dependencies into the hands of one family or even one man.

Now taking a long look backwards, we find that Great Britain was at one time a country of warring tribes (not warring all the time, of course, the production of food, clothing and shelter was necessarily the principal preoccupation), and each tribe had its strong local patriotism. Such a thing as a United England, with a united English patriotism, could not have been conceived by the people of those times. But eventually—as it happened, by foreign invasion—England was united. Eventually Wales and Scotland were added to the unit. The same process had taken place upon the Continent. The feudal states of Italy were welded into the Italian state. The feudal states of Germany eventually recognised Prussian overlordship. Generally speaking, the principal European states which had now evolved were separated from one another by mountain ranges or sea or river barriers. The fact that within the areas thus enclosed, communication—roads and railways—was relatively easy, was one of the factors which brought about their cohesion as states. Is there any reason why this process of development should stop? We see none. And we see a new factor—the development of air transport and air power. The world has become relatively smaller. A country like Belgium can be traversed in about twenty minutes by air. In these circumstances, small land area units become a hindrance to development. Is it not logical that they should pass under the sway of and become merged in an adjoining land area unit of greater power by virtue of its greater heavy industry ?

For several centuries British policy has been based on the balance of power theory—never allow any power to become predominant on the Continent. Air power, however, has brought a new factor into the picture, and air power is still in the process of Development.

What in all this welter can be the interests of the U.S.A.? It is well known that a large amount of capital is invested by the U.S.A. in Great Britain and on the Continent. Read any speech by any American Government spokesman at, the present time, and .you will almost invariably find a reference to South America. Competition iri South America between British, German and U.S.A. interests is a well-known fact, but the, U.S.A. have been increasing their hold. The lease to them of British naval bases off the eastern, coast strengthens their position. Take a look at your map of the world, and it will be obvious that the greatest competitor which the U.S.A. could have to face in the near future would be a United States of Europe. This, and their capital investments in Europe, dictate their policy.

What of Russia, the land of bureaucratic state capitalism? Ideologically, there is very little difference between Russian “Communism” and German “National Socialism”—many of the German Nazis were recruited from the “Communists.” Were Germany to control Europe, it would not be long before she controlled Russia too. The distances which annihilated Napoleon will have small effect upon modern means of transport. Hence, despite the risk and the probable unwillingness of Stalin to go to war, it is likely that she will, before long, enter the arena. To be dangerously prophetic, one might visualise Europe split into two new land area units, with the line of demarcation at the Rhine—north of the Rhine, Russian Europe, south of the Rhine, British Europe.

How do all the local patriotisms fit into this picture? We have seen that tribal patriotism has given way to State patriotism. As the worker tends to confuse his interests with those of his master, we see no reason why there should not develop a new continental patriotism, after a short period of cohesion and propaganda. Such ideological slogans as “Communism,” “Fascism,” or “Democracy” already provide the groundwork of the new Continental patriotism.

To stretch the vision still further, but in line with the factors we have already mentioned, one can visualise the eventual combination of Europe and Asia (including India and Japan) into one vast Continental State—a similar process in the Americas—thus bringing about the final alignment of forces—the new world versus the old. And just as the industry of the national state is vested in very few hands, and as the tendency is for it to become vested in fewer hands, is it so fantastic to visualise the eventual ownership of the whole world by one family ? Even if capitalism were to develop to this point, there would still exist some workers who would say : “Ah well, you’ve got to have somebody in control—to tell us what to do.” It is safe to assume, however, that long before that time, capitalism will have demonstrated its oppressive nature to such an extent, that the great majority of the workers will be ripe and ready for Socialism.

To the worker these speculations are, of course, only a matter of academic interest. However capitalism settles, temporarily, its differences, the slave position of the worker can only be accentuated with the further development of capitalism. Whether in capitalist national State or capitalist Continent, he will still be a slave to the class which exploits him, he will still suffer from the poverty and its consequences which goes with that condition. The worker must concentrate his attention on the cause of his poverty, the capitalist nature of the world in which we live. Cause and cure go hand in hand—capitalism the cause, Socialism—-in the real meaning of the term—the remedy.
Ramo.

[The above article was written prior to the death of Lord Stamp.]

The Goal of the Class Conscious (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The conflict now raging has now reached a more serious stage, and the working-class, compelled by circumstances to fight the enemy of their masters, are naturally somewhat anxious regarding the duration, even though they may, in Britain, at least, have no misgivings in regard to the outcome of the fighting.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when our masters were not so much concerned about Democracy as they appear to be at present. For instance, when the Social Democrats of Vienna were shot down by Dollfuss at the command of Mussolini; the deed received the blessing, tacitly, of the ruling class of both Britain and France. There was no protest except a pious, hypocritical gesture. Surely, if any group of men ever sacrificed their lives in the interests of Democracy it was those of the Karl Marx Flats. The Social Democrats were not revolutionaries, but they believed in liberty. They offered to give their support to Dollfuss on condition that he would restore the Democratic Constitution. He refused because Mussolini, whose tool he was, wanted to get control of Austria ahead of the Nazis. Hitler out-manoeuvred them both, and Dollfuss was assassinated.

The events now taking place in Crete and the Atlantic are so breath-absorbing that we are not very observant in regard to what is happening in the profit-making sphere. The war is as exciting as a circus, and it may be to our advantage if we look at the actions of some of the wire-pullers behind the scenes.

The United States is in the picture just now and has recently unearthed a few interesting things by means of certain investigations made by the U.S. Department of Justice.

These have been condensed in an article from the pen of Albert H. Jenkins, which appeared in the Federationist (Vancouver, May 1st): —
“War or no war, Big Business men of all nations do business with each other “as usual,” regardless of the results to their own countries. That was proved by shocking disclosures after the last World War. It is being revealed again by sensational grand jury probes now being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

There are three of these investigations. First came the inquiry showing that the Mellon Aluminium Company of America’s tie-up with a German firm resulted in a serious shortage of aluminium and magnesium for aeroplanes and other defence needs of the country, while production of those strategic light metals went ahead by leaps and bounds in Germany.

Second is a probe of the drug industry, begun last July, and third, is an investigation of the chemical industry, begun this week by a grand jury in New York.

COMBINED AGAINST U.S.
The facts which are being brought out show how American and foreign corporations got together to limit production and fix prices of important products the world around, by means of patents and secret agreements, with results harmful to the interests of the United States. These international combines include many other foreign firms beside those in Germany, but the latter are particularly significant because of war and defence developments.

The latest action by the grand jury was to subpoena the books of five companies—General Aniline, Sterling Products, Winthrop Chemical, Sobering and the Swiss Bank Corporation. The subpoenas also require these companies to give the jury full information about their relations and dealings with 100 other big concerns in the United States, Germany, England, France, Italy, South America and other countries.

GIANTS UNDER FIRE.
Among these companies are such giants as duPont, Dow Chemical, American Cynamid, Lever Brothers, and practically all the other leading American and foreign drug and chemical corporations.

Grand juries do not disclose their findings until they make indictments, but some idea of what the Department of Justice officials are after can be obtained from their recent testimony before the Monopoly Committee and the House Appropriations and Patents Committees, where they were describing this probe and asking for more money to carry it on.

One of them, who was talking “off the record” and does not want his name mentioned, told the Appropriations Committee that “the German chemical trust has in this country eight affiliates, one of which is a $30,000,000 investment trust.”

UNCLE SAM IS “STOOGE.”
Since the war shut Germany off from South American markets, he said, the German chemical companies are having American companies fill their orders from South American customers. The American products are “packed in such a way that they look like German stuff.”

Thus the American companies are handling the South American markets for the German concerns, so the latter can take back those markets after the war, despite the Roosevelt administration’s attempt to expand the U.S. trade with South America.

Moreover, he continued, the American chemical companies pay “millions of dollars a year” in patent royalties to the German concerns. Some of this money is being sent secretly to Germany, and much of it is sent to South America, where the Germans use it for “penetration” of South American countries.

OTHER CONSPIRACIES PROBED
In addition to the aluminium, magnesium, drug and chemical probes, the Justice Department is acting against similar “conspiracies” involving other products which are vital to national defence.

The situation on several of these other products was described at the same House Committee hearings. One case is “an agreement between the General Electric Company of the United States and Krupp, a big German trust.”

This agreement, the witness said, covers “tungsten carbide, the key to the whole German machine-tool industry. It is harder than diamond.” Because of the agreement. “Germany produces 20 times as much tungsten carbide as the United States.”
Another interesting item in the same paper indicates that Uncle Sam is not in full sympathy with Democracy everywhere. The prosecution of the Social Democrats of Germany in Spain could be stopped if the United States made an appropriate gesture. The following is worth noting: —
“The Mexican Government has protested strongly to Vichy against the violation of the agreement that Spanish refugees were to be protected by the French Government and permitted to emigrate to Mexico.

Undoubtedly there has been connivery with Franco, who is unwilling to allow Loyalist leaders to escape, because he is afraid that one day they will return and lead a revolt against him, and is hoping that ultimately France will deliver them over to his vengeance. Progressive Americans point out that Washington could help by refusing to send foodships to Vichy or to Madrid, unless those ships could carry back the refugees to Mexico.

The fate of anti-Nazi German refugees in France is not less tragic. Recently two able German intellectuals of the Social-Democratic Party who held high office in the Weimar Republic, Breitsheid and Hilferding, were handed over to the Germans by the Vichy Government; by this time they may be dead. No one will bemoan the fate of the capitalist Thyssen, through whose money Hitler came to power and who recently was handed over by Vichy and died in a concentration camp. The betrayal of the anti-Fascist refugees to their enemies is the lowest act that Vichy has committed.”
The ruling class of this and all other countries will endeavour to do their utmost to make the world safe for capitalism after the war. Their great new world is a profit world. But there is one thing they cannot do, and that is reconcile the contradictions the present system produces. These will become ever more glaring and ever more irreconcilable.

War Savings Weeks are a means of lowering the real wages of the class to which we belong: real wages are food, clothing and shelter; these are declining in quantity and quality.

We are told that our savings will help us tide over the trying period that will follow the cessation of hostilities. This means when unemployment comes you will be able to exist on what you couldn’t buy during the war.

There is one thing, however, the ruling class forget, and that is the increased knowledge that is being imbibed by those who live by selling their labour power. The wage slaves are not all asleep. The conversations one overhears in cars, in restaurants, on the job, in fact wherever workers are gathered together, induces one to conclude they will not readily go back to the bread line after the war.

This is as it should be. The material conditions have reached the stage when the present system of production is a fetter on production. A sure harbinger of a new, and, let us hope, a better form of society, in which there will be neither wage-slave nor capitalist, nor private property in the means of life. The Socialist has heretofore lacked encouragement, but he has builded better than he realised. The issue between the capitalist-class and the working-class has been kept clear, and moving circumstance has now brought into being those conditions which make Socialism practical politics. It is the only policy that unquestionably offers peace and plenty to all mankind. It is the only policy that can be advocated honestly and without equivocation. It is true. Its triumph is inevitable. Whatever its enemies attempt in another direction will be exposed as inadequate and harmful. The common ownership of the means of life and production solely for use is our goal. Those who ask for less condone exploitation and betray the class to which we belong.
Charles Lestor

The Overfed and the Under-nourished (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the headings “War Diet Makes Us Healthier” and “We Were Overfed,” the Evening Standard (May 6th, 1941) had the following: —
“Dietitians who used to urge the public to eat more fruit, to-day applauded the statement of Lord Horder that ‘there is nothing essential in fruit juices that cannot be obtained from vegetables.”
This prompts the question whether the dietitians are experts in diet or only experts in advertising.

Lower down in the article we are told that “so far, health reports show that our war-time diet privations do nothing but good.”

That some people were overfed before the war is undoubtedly true, but they were not to be found among the millions of wage-earners who were getting 50s. a week or thereabouts. It should not be forgotten that unchallenged inquiries before the war showed, in the words of the Manchester Guardian (February 17th, 1941), that “a third of our population is under-nourished.”

The Judgment of Joad (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

It is most lamentable that Socialists, in their long and arduous struggle to dispel working-class political ignorance, receive hindrance rather than help from those acclaimed by many as intellectual leaders. In April’s Socialist Standard we referred to the shortcomings of Mr. George Bernard Shaw on the subject of Socialism, and now we feel impelled to pass judgment on Dr. C. E. M. Joad. Writing in’ the New Statesman and Nation, for May 3rd last, in an article, “The Wheel Comes Full Circle (II),” he observes:
“It is one of my most profoundly held convictions that the methods for the achievement of Socialism which have been fashionable during the last twenty years . . . can be productive of no good thing.”
He accordingly welcomes the “renewed intrusion of ethical concepts into political and more particularly into socialist, political thinking,” and one of his conclusions is that “there is a definite relation between Socialism, as my generation were brought up to understand it, and the values of ethics and the virtues of Christianity.”

Let us make it clear to Dr. Joad, that if his concept of Socialism be accepted by the rest of his generation, then neither he nor they were brought up to understand it, and, as evidence, let us quote again from his article :
“In my last article I described the conceptions which have increasingly dominated Communists, and we may add Socialists—for what Socialism has there been in England during the last twenty years, save that of Communism?—in the period between the two wars. And now again there is a change. John Strachey writes a book which appeals to faith in the name of love. . .”
With absolute confidence we defy Dr. Joad, or anyone else, to prove, (a) that the Communist Party has even been Socialist; (b) that Mr. John Strachey has even been a Socialist; (c) that there has at any time been a Socialist organisation in this country other than the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Let us offer Dr. Joad further information regarding Socialism, so that he may know that the hope for humanity lies there, and there alone, and not in those doctrines he falsely conceives to be Socialist, nor yet in the Christian approach.

Dr. Joad argues that “Socialist” methods are fallacious because one cannot “be sufficiently sure one is right to justify one in the infliction of untold suffering in the present to make straight the way of the future,” and because human beings are corrupted by power. We share his aversion from the “authoritarian dogmatism” of these methods; but they have nothing to do with Socialism, neither has “the ordering and ruling of human beings.” Socialism cannot be till society consciously desires it. Violence will not achieve it, and consequently there will be no need of power to impose it.

Regarding his suggested alternative, Dr. Joad mentions without a trace of rebuke the Oxford Union tenet, that an essential condition of world reconstruction is a “return to God through organised religion.” (Italics ours.) Does he not realise that the State, instrument of man’s oppression by man, was even in early times essentially theistic, and that organised religion—including such as the Catholic overlords of Spanish workers and the Church of England landlords of London slums—is a potent factor in that oppression ? What, one may well ask, has this to do with “love, kindliness, respect for the individual” ?

Assuming Dr. Joad really means Christianity, then we may reply that while Socialism will be the practical realisation of “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (whereas capitalism is its antithesis), yet the Christian belief leads men not only to seek salvation apart from this earth, but also to feel that the patient endurance of hardship will speed that salvation. It contends, too, that if man is to have material emancipation here, it must be consequent upon his moral reform.

Particularly apposite is Dr. Joad’s comment that the record of two thousand years of ethical incentives to the betterment of society “is not encouraging.” He tries to argue away this point. Fails. Gladiatorial games and duelling have gone, yet the slaughter of man by man is surely more prevalent in the world than ever before. Wars may be condemned, but the condemnation is generally utilitarian rather than principled. No longer is there persecution for witchcraft; yet in its place we have widespread maltreatment of the workers who struggle for a better world.

Concluding his plea for ethical considerations, Dr. Joad states: “I do not think the appeal to moral values is always futile.” Let him observe that war and other capitalist evils which beset us are invariably bound up with appeals to moral values.

We strive for Socialism—common ownership and democratic control of the means of life—not because it is moral, ethical, virtuous, or seemingly eligible for any other relative abstract description, but because it is a scientifically demonstrable social and economic necessity.
Richard Tatham