Sunday, October 1, 2023

Open and shut (1973)

SLL paper
From the October 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is an open, democratic organisation. All our meetings are open to non-members and at our lectures and propaganda meetings they are invited to put their points of view in opposition to us, provided only that they respect the rules of democratic debate.

In contrast to this many so-called “socialist” groups, often professing to be democratic, deliberately exclude Socialists from their meetings — possibly because they fear that we will expose their false claims for what they are. We have received a letter from a comrade in Dundee which will illustrate this point well:
On July 3rd I was invited by a Socialist Labour League member to attend their meeting in a hall here in Dundee which was to take place on July 5th.

I accordingly arrived with another comrade and a friend, to listen to the lecture and ask questions in the ensuing discussions.

We were the first three in the room but soon afterwards another twelve or so members of the public entered and we all sat patiently awaiting the arrival of the lecturer. He entered, but instead of continuing with the meeting he asked me if I would “mind stepping outside for a minute”. Why? He told me it was a meeting to discuss SLL policy and that we weren’t welcome to sit in on it. “This is a private meeting for SLL members only”, he said.

I returned to the meeting and informed those present of the SLL decision, asking them for their opinions on it. Alas everyone seemed suddenly struck dumb and the lecturer’s democratic (?) decision was final.

He then became rather nasty and argumentative, and said if we didn’t leave of our own accord they would “have to remove” us. We pointed out that our companion had no party allegiance so how did he stand? “He can stay if he likes, but we don’t want you at our meetings” said the lecturer, who was by now becoming rather aggressive.

Not wishing to cause any trouble we left, but not before informing those present that the SLL censorship was no different from that of Mary Whitehouse or the Capitalist mass media.

The SLL ironically enough demand “The right of freedom of speech”, but it seems this is only if one agrees with what they say. They demand “The right to defend rights”, but if one should try to exercise any of those “rights” at their meetings, then they’ll throw you out. If someday the SLL should gain control of the capitalist system, will we Socialists have “The right of freedom of speech”? Or will this privilege be reserved only for those who toe the party line and support the state-capitalist dictatorship they seek to impose?

Incidentally as the meeting was for SLL members only why was a CP member member allowed to stay? Why were those people with no party allegiance allowed to stay?
Yours fraternally.
J McFarlane, 

50 Years Ago: Children and Empire (1973)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The special correspondent of the Daily News, reporting the speech of Dr. Vaughan Cornish, President of the Geographical Section of the British Association, writes:—
‘In his opinion, if you are to do your duty to the Empire you must have at least four children. He made it clear that you should not invite children into the world for their own pleasure and amusement, but should enlist them as it were, in an army for home defence.

‘In his view, it appeared, children were merely potential soldiers.

'In order to have strategic security in this island’, he insisted, ‘we must be able to meet the air force of a European combination as well as to carry out our traditional plan of dispatching a powerful expeditionary force for the support of a friendly power. This active defence requires a large population.’
(Daily News 14.9.1923).
Imagine urging us to increase our families so that our children may provide food for guns! And the monuments to the ‘glorious dead’ are still being covered with wreaths though their dependants cannot find the necessary covering to shelter them from the inclement weather.

(From an unsigned editorial Produce More — Children in the Socialist Standard, October 1923).

SPGB Meetings (1973)

Party News from the October 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

September's "Done & Dusted"

A busy month on the blog which was only briefly interrupted by a kick in the knackers by Manchester Branch. (Yes, I like to hold grudges.)

Cue cut and paste . . . 

What is now a regular feature on the blog . . . and like all regular features on the blog, one that I should have put in place about 10 years ago. (It's the same with the Pages that I'm slowly introducing to the top of the blog's homepage).

It's perfectly simple. Here's a list of the Socialist Standards that were completed on the blog in the month of September 2023. Slowly but surely the digitization of the Standard is *cough* nearing completion. If I'd hazard a guess, I'd say it will be finished by the end of 2024  2029. Famous last words, and all that. 

They are broken up into separate decades for the hard of hearing.

September's "Done & Dusted"

Last month I wrote, "September can sometimes be a quiet time on the blog. Who knows if this year will be another one of those quiet Septembers?"

I'm glad I was proven wrong on that score. Octobers can also be a weird month on the blog (What the hell happened in 2021? I hope I was having too good a time to blog.) I need to crack on. If the blog doesn't punch through the 2000 post barrier in 2023, I'll be gutted . . .  crestfallen . . . forlorn . . . sick as a parrot . . . sorry, I'm all cliched out, Geoff.)

Resistance to Empire (2023)

Book Review from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Great Defiance: How the World took on the British Empire. By David Veevers. Penguin, 2023.

This is an account of the rise of the early British Empire that counters the ‘War of the Worlds’ style idea that Britain spread out to conquer the world based on some sort of natural or technical (or even providential) superiority. It puts centre stage the resistance to the rise of the empire, and shows how the British were often thwarted, or their victories curtailed.

For instance, the book begins with Ireland, making the point that the conquest took over a hundred years, and nearly ended up bankrupting the English state. Mostly, the English had to rely on a network of local lords who would ally with the Irish cause as much as support the crown, as their interests depended. The Tudor state thus adopted "an innovative strategy of colonial expansion. Withdrawing the crown’s claims to territories beyond the Pale, Elizabeth stepped aside and opened up the colonisation of Ireland to private enterprise." Backed up by the violence of the British state, using such weapons as induced famine and atrocious slaughter, rebellious Ireland was brought to heel.

This became the operating method of the expanding English colonialism, and indeed, the colonisation of the new world was linked by some of the people who colonised Ireland: the name Walter Raleigh keeps recurring through this book. Veevers deploys the indigenous people’s names for themselves, thus what is now Carolina in the United States was Ossomocomuck and the people were the Algonquian. Likewise, in the Antilles, the people were the Kalinago, and what is now called St Vincent was Hairoun.

In part, the expansion into the Americas was made possible by the conquest of Ireland, providing a substantial market for imported sugar and other goods, and also providing people to export to work in the colonies, in the form of indentured labour (which, as the author emphasises, and contrary to some claims today, is not comparable with the slavery that followed. Indeed, the book deals with the slave trade extensively, and notes how the Dahomey kings tried to take control of the trade in enslaved people from the Bight of Benin. Many Africans were not passive victims but agents, warts and all. And, again, it shows how the pieces of the jigsaw came together, and the tobacco and sugar trades drove the demand and thus the qualitative change in the slave trade to the new world.

The book also covers what happened when the English arrived as supplicants, such as in India or Japan, and found themselves confronted by powerful empires in their own right. The English were able to offer revenue to the emperors in the form of trade as well as military support (especially seaborne). Much of the history of the English presence was shaped by trying to escape taxes.

It’s not easy to come across accounts of how the English (later the British) came to dominate in India. My memory of schoolbooks is there was a blackhole in Calcutta and then Clive won the battle of Plassey (actually, he didn’t, but that’s a longer story). Veevers explains the interactions between the English merchants, the settled Portuguese community and the Mogul nawabs and princes. This book is worth reading for this account alone.

The book ends with the point that the history of the British Empire is as much an act of forgetting and airbrushing the subjectivity and substance of the wide variety of the world’s people. As he points out, in a very real sense, the British unmade the world.
Pik Smeet

Mad Monx (2023)

From the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1327 a Benedictine monastery in northern Italy suffered a calamitous fire which destroyed a magnificent collection of irreplaceable books and manuscripts. It was determined that the cause was arson. The perpetrator was an aged fanatical monk who sought to keep certain knowledge hidden away. Oh, that was fiction, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

Marx was one of those whose books were destroyed by the Nazis, also keen to keep knowledge hidden. Burnt too were the works of Heinrich Heine. Heine’s 1821 play, Almansor, contains the line: ‘Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too’.

Science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury was also queasy at the repression being practised by the Soviet Union. Russians resorted to manual copying of literature (samizdat) and passing it from hand to hand.

In 1953, Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, appeared. Fahrenheit 451 refers to the temperature at which books burn. Set in a future America, it was the job of firemen not to extinguish conflagrations but to initiate them for the purpose of book burning.

‘Sticks and stones might break my bones but words cannot hurt me’ goes the old anti-bullying children’s rhyme, but publishing words can certainly lead to the violence it rails against.

Recent burnings of the Koran in Denmark and Sweden, which have freedom of speech enshrined in their constitutions, have led both countries to contemplate introducing laws to stop such actions. This is not the first time that such events have occurred and the consequences have, in some cases, resulted in extremely violent protests. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson warned that a spate of Koran burnings in the country has triggered ‘the most serious security situation since the Second World War’. One cannot believe he is referencing the Religion of Peace (sic).

Violent protests followed the publication in 1988 of Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses. Ayatollah Khomeini, then leader of Iran, called for the death of Rushdie. In August 2022 a stabbing attempt was made resulting in Rushdie losing the sight of one eye and the use of a hand.

A Pew Research Center analysis found that 79 countries and territories out of the 198 studied around the world (40 percent) had laws or policies in 2019 banning blasphemy, defined as speech or actions considered to be contemptuous of a god or of people or objects considered sacred. Twenty-two countries (11 percent) had laws against apostasy (abandoning one’s religion).

In March 2023 the Spectator wrote:
‘No religion ought to be given the power to constrain political discourse or behaviour in order to protect its adherents from being scandalised, and no government should help it by silencing its critics. If a Wakefield resident was to burn the Quran publicly in protest at the pretensions of the fundamentalists (something, incidentally, that can now cause you to be arrested on serious public order charges by police increasingly desperate not to appear anti-Islamic, as happened some years ago), we should fight to protect his right to free speech in the same way as we would if he had been a secularist or left-winger who had burnt a Bible or an American flag’ (

Theory at odds with reality?
Earlier in 2023 an American Tennessee pastor live-streamed a book-burning event urging his flock to throw their Harry Potter and Twilight copies into a bonfire. Because why? Because, he said, ‘IT’S WITCHCRAFT 100 PERCENT! All your Twilight books and movies. That mess is full of spells, demonism, shape-shifting and occultism. Stop allowing demonic influences into your home’. Does he know it’s 2023 not 1933? Or perhaps he thinks it’s 1633.

Whatever the literary merits, or otherwise, of J K Rowling’s works – Harry Potter has sold over 500 million copies since 1997– in an example that modern heresy will still get you burned at the stake, metaphorically, Rowling’s defence of biological women has seen her banned from events celebrating her own books and films. The three main actors whose careers were kickstarted in the Potter film series have been vocal in condemning her.

Not much support for Voltaire’s ‘I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend with my life your right to say it’ there. Nothing is free under capitalism but free speech increasingly comes at a price.

‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’. In George Orwell’s 1984 the protagonist Winston Smith is employed in the Ministry of Truth’s Records Department. Here he altered historical newspapers and photographs to concur with whatever the Party line was at the time. The removal of ‘unpersons’ was often carried out in this manner in the Soviet Union.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union statues of Lenin were systematically removed from the state the Soviets had previously controlled. Understandable if you’ve been subject to repression for many years but the removal of literary figures seems churlish.

As part of its de-Russification, Ukraine has been removing monuments to Alexander Pushkin the Russian poet, playwright, and novelist, thought to be the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.

A few years back Iran was, allegedly, (the report comes from the American-supported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) considering removing Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam from its education curriculum. Changes were because ‘Officials believe that in order to attract the younger generation they must increase the intensity of their religious and ideological propaganda in schools. They think that a large proportion of young people are turning away from religion and government ideology because of the weakness of propaganda in the education system and the mass media’. Shades of Goebbels?

When William Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476 he would have been unaware of the law of unintended consequences. Pity that so many are now experiencing them.
Dave Coggan

Best regards, but miles apart (2023)

From the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard 
Sometimes people in other groups and countries contact us with a view to some kind of joint venture or activity. As a recent correspondence illustrates, such well-intended invitations can often expose deep and unsuspected difficulties. It would be unfair to quote our correspondent directly without their permission, but you may surmise their arguments from our own responses below.
Hi there,

I’ve just been forwarded your invite, and sure, happy to have a chat online. If you know anything about us though, you’ll know we’re all about global common ownership now, with no money or markets, and we don’t go in for piecemeal progressive reforms, eg, housing, so I don’t know how much you’d get out of our involvement.
Best regards

Hi there,

To be honest I’m reluctant to take part if the purpose is mainly to ‘raise awareness’ about housing issues. The way I interpret this is ‘promoting positive things we can do about housing’, and I’m not convinced there are any. I would be obliged to object that over a hundred years of housing reforms have done nothing to cure the homelessness problem, and in my opinion never will do anything, because housing is like any other commodity that’s produced for profit, not for need, and entirely subject to the laws of the capitalist market. Poor people simply don’t matter in this system, but it’s arguably even worse than that. The more workers are ground down by exorbitant rents and mortgages, the more desperate they get, and the more employers can screw them with low wages, zero-hour contracts and anti-union rules. In this view, homelessness is actually great for capitalism, just like unemployment, and unaffordable health systems. They are not problems it has any intention of solving.

I’m guessing you want to stress the positives, as in these two paragraphs from Jacobin magazine:
‘Certain reform-oriented struggles, especially those around rent control and expanded provision of social housing, offer important opportunities for on-the-ground socialist organizing. But we also shouldn’t be shy about our big-picture diagnosis.

Socialists have to make the case, loudly, publicly, and globally: capitalism can never meet our needs for high-quality, affordable housing. The reason is straightforward: the profit motive’ (
This is the age-old dilemma of action now or revolution later. It’s always claimed that you can do both, but in practice one is always pursued at the expense of the other. To me it’s like trying to redecorate while your house is on fire. I also can’t go along with the idea that housing reforms could be some kind of step on the way to socialism. You could make the same argument for virtually every charity under the sun, with the result that the steps on the way to socialism rapidly multiply to infinity. And reforms can be undone, and frequently have been, by successive political regimes, so that sadly, reformism is rarely a forward path, more often a circular loop. How many times has Oxfam proposed to eradicate poverty since they were founded in 1942?

I’m replying at some length just so you can see what position I would be obliged to take, which I fear would have the effect of undermining whatever you want to put across. I heartily sympathise with you over the undeniable fact that the working class does not seem interested in socialism right now. But I don’t think the solution is to offer them something else. Part of the reason the working class is not interested in the single socialist step is that they’re too beguiled by the plethora of reformist routes being offered to them.

If you’re happy to proceed on this basis then fine, but I perfectly understand if you don’t think it would be helpful.
Best regards

Hi there,

Based on what you’ve just replied, I’m afraid I have not made myself clear at all. You say you ‘100 percent support radical socialist reforms’. We don’t, because we don’t believe they exist or that they would work. You ask for socialist ideas (I suppose meaning ‘reform measures’) that I support. There are none. You ask what policies I think are best. There are none. Key issues? Just one, getting the world to abolish capitalism. That’s all. No interims, no small steps, no ‘in the meantime’.

Your approach is: the working class won’t listen, so propose progressive things they will listen to instead. In this view, socialism is more of an ongoing process than an end goal.

Our approach is: the working class won’t listen, so make them listen. Socialism is the only goal. There is no process.

You may regard this as an absolutist, rather than a relativist position, and you’d be right. This is not a new debate, it’s as old as the history of socialist thinking, and caused the breakup of the First International. On the one (majority) side, the gradualists, reformists, Fabians and ‘minimalist’ socialists who thought you could introduce socialism by degrees, through progressive government measures. On the other side, the ‘maximalist’ socialists, also called Impossibilists, who demanded the immediate abolition of capitalism, and nothing less.

We are in that maximalist tradition, which is nothing if not uncompromising. We would be the first to admit that we haven’t got what we wanted. But capitalism still exists, and workers are still suffering, with the world possibly on the brink of self-extermination, so we would argue that the minimalists didn’t get what they wanted either. We’re no closer to socialism now than we were a hundred years ago, for all their progressive ideas. In fact, because of all the ‘faux socialism’ being put about, we are arguably even further away.

I admire your energy and initiative in setting up your own political group, obviously in the hope that you can make a difference. The world needs people like you, more than ever. But I would suggest that you take a closer look at these ‘socialist reforms’ you advocate. There are very few genuinely new concepts floating around. Have these reforms been tried before, and if so, what happened? Do they make sense in terms of economics? If you’re not sure, feel free to ask me. If I don’t know, I can find out. A little bit of homework now could save you spending a lot of energy later.

Why not tell me what measures you want to promote, and I’ll tell you what I think?
Best regards

Hi again,

I’m sorry you think I’m being ‘pointlessly hostile’ and wasting your time with ‘idiotic squabbling’. I only wanted you to understand my position and now I guess you do. I suppose you will consider it a waste of time communicating with me, but I will take the trouble to reply anyway. To me, this sort of exchange is not some alternative to the revolutionary process, it’s part of it.

Believe me, I would love nothing better than to get round the table with a united revolutionary socialist movement and form a united plan. If I had the magic power to make that happen I would. I don’t want a divided opposition to capitalism any more than you do.

But if you think that movement is divided by nothing more than petty superficial squabbles, you don’t understand revolutionary politics as well as you think. The divisions go all the way down.

There are two main fault lines:

(1) Minimal versus maximal – the two poles, as already explained. Minimalists are driven by a desperate sense of expediency, but what happens in practice is that they always get drawn into managing capitalism on behalf of the rich. This has happened with every supposedly labour or socialist party that’s ever been in government. In the UK, many of their grandees end up in the House of Lords. What usually happens to the supporters is that, over time, they forget all about socialism and become garden-variety liberals.

(2) Vanguardists versus libertarians – on one side, the Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc, who believe the working class is basically stupid and needs an elite revolutionary leadership, who alone are capable of understanding socialist theory. If successful these groups, in the process of imposing their new order, have become a new totalitarian ruling class, very often murderously so. Against them stands an assortment of libertarian socialists, anarchists, syndicalists and some left or council communists, who reject leadership as an inherently weak and undemocratic form of organisation, and insist like Marx that only the whole working class can emancipate itself.

The above presupposes that, at heart, they all want 100 percent socialism, at least at some distant point in the future. Actually, many of the minimalists and vanguardists don’t even want that, or understand what it is. They think socialism is just capitalism managed by the state, or by a revolutionary dictatorship.

I need hardly add that there are other, more minor differences. The vanguardists all hate each other, like the fighting dogs they are. The minimalists (who are often also vanguardists) all promote competing and often infeasible reforms (like UBI) simply to get votes and/or members. Even the libertarians are divided, with most apart from the SPGB being anti-parliament.

I’m not making any of this up. These divisions existed well before you or I were ever born. If you’re going into revolutionary territory, you need to know where the cliff edges are. It doesn’t mean we have to be uncivil with each other, but unity between groups who don’t want the same thing is out of the question. Our solution, whether you agree with it or not, is to specify exactly what we mean by socialism, and then seek out only those people who fully support that aim, so that the revolution can proceed on solid rather than nebulous foundations.
Best regards

Blogger's Notes:
" . . . and caused the breakup of the First International . . . " I think PJS meant the Second International.

Tiny Tips (2023)

The Tiny Tips column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The owner of OnlyFans took home a hefty paycheck last year. Leonid Radvinsky, a Ukrainian-American businessman, received more than $338 million in dividends in 2022, according to financial statements filed by the adult-content platform’s parent company, UK-based Fenix International Ltd, and obtained by PEOPLE. Radvinsky’s nine-figure bonus equates to roughly $1.3 million for each of the 260 working days in 2022 (

#    #    #    #

It is no good targeting isolated faults within this society and attempting to fix them one by one. Many of its core structures, procedures, assumptions and values are mistaken and the focus must be on replacing the system with one that does not generate the present range of problems leading us to destruction. A satisfactory alternative must be some form of simpler way. We will get nowhere unless and until this is widely understood and willingly accepted (

#    #    #    #

A harsh custom courses through rural China. If a woman marries a man from outside her village, she becomes a waijianü, or “married-out daughter”. Tradition deems married-out women can be stripped of their rights to land that legally belongs to them. The Communist Party came to power promising to emancipate women from feudalism. Today, the collective financial losses suffered by married-out women are growing (

#    #    #    #

Almost thirty years after the end of formal apartheid ANC rule has come to a point of economic devastation with unemployment at over 40% and youth unemployment at over 70%. There has been no significant land reform. Hunger is endemic, there is pervasive violence, crises in schools and health care, collapsing electricity, water, rail and port systems, corruption on a staggering scale and ruthless political repression of struggles for urban land (

#    #    #    #

Danish film-maker and provocateur Lars von Trier has defended himself from backlash after writing a social media post that criticised Denmark’s donation of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. “Russian lives matter also!” he wrote on Instagram on Tuesday after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s visit to Denmark, where he and Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, inspected the F-16s to be delivered to his country. Von Trier addressed his post to “Mr Zelensky and Mr Putin, and not least Mrs Frederiksen (who yesterday, like someone head over heels in love, posed in the cockpit of one of the scariest killing machines of our time, grinning from ear to ear)” (

#    #    #    #

More than 1,300 people died while homeless across the United Kingdom in 2022, marking an 85 percent increase since 2019 (

#    #    #    #

Ryan Knight @ProudSocialist •The cruelty of disaster capitalism on full display in Maui: “We can’t get aid yet they are serving evictions” (

#    #    #    #

As Staughton Lynd’s speeches, writings, statements and interviews demonstrate, there were coherent and persuasive arguments against the war in Vietnam based on U.S. and international law, precedents from American history, and moral and ethical considerations based on conscientious objection to war and an internationalism embraced by American radicals which said: “My country is the world, my countrymen are all mankind” (

An anarcho-capitalist president? (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

In August the media reported the success in Argentina’s presidential primary elections of Javier Milei, ‘a self-described ‘anarcho-capitalist’’ (Financial Times, 31 August), ‘the ultra-right libertarian and ‘anarcho-capitalist’ who represents angry Argentina’ (El País, 14 August).

If they now have a chance of one of theirs being elected as president, the anarcho-capitalists have come a long way since we debated them in the 1980s and 1990s, challenging their argument that socialism (as a society based on common ownership without production for sale) was impossible and refuting their spurious ‘economic calculation argument’.

The theory, the Financial Times noted, was the brain-child of Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) who ‘developed a radical version of libertarianism that he called ‘anarcho-capitalism’. In this worldview, states are ‘organised banditry’ and taxation is nothing but ‘theft on a gigantic, and unchecked, scale’. As Quinn Slobodian points out in his recent book Crack-up Capitalism, in Rothbard’s ideal polity, ‘contracts would replace constitutions’ and people would not be citizens but ‘clients of a range of service providers’’ (

We can confirm this from the many debates we had with them. They did argue that capitalism can, and should, exist without the state; in fact that as long as the state existed there was not real capitalism but ‘statism’ or ‘corporatism’. Capitalism, they said, had never been tried. In their view, the functions of the state, including the courts, the police and the armed forces, should be exercised by competing private enterprises whose services individuals could buy according to choice. In fact, everything should be dealt with by buying and selling contracts between individuals and groups of individuals.

This includes the sale of body parts. They are divided over whether parents can sell their children. Milei, who is evidently a loud-mouth who speaks before he thinks, confirms both. According to El País,
‘In June of last year, he referred to the sale of organs as ‘just another market’ during a radio debate. ‘Who are you to determine what [a person] does with his life?’ Milei questioned. (…) Days later, a journalist asked him if he subscribed to another theory that suggested ‘the sale of children.’ Milei replied, ‘It depends,’ and further got himself tangled up. ‘Shouldn’t the answer be no?’ the journalist pressed. ‘If I had a child, I would not sell it,’ Milei said. ‘The answer depends on the terms in which you are thinking; maybe 200 years from now it could be debated’ (
Capitalism in Argentina must have reduced workers there to the depths of desperation if so many are prepared to vote, even as a protest, for a person with such crazy ideas.

Anarcho-capitalism is a dystopian nightmare that, if it could be implemented, would make capitalism even worse than it is now by subjecting everything, literally everything, to being bought and sold. It would reduce us all to isolated atoms only interacting in the market place.

Capitalism has never existed without the state and never could have. It was helped into being by the exercise of coercive state power both to accumulate the first money invested as industrial capital (colonial plunder, slave trade) and to create a propertyless proletariat by driving peasants off the land (enclosures, clearances). As Marx put it, capitalism came into the world ‘dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt’ (Capital, vol 1, ch. 31). Once established, capitalism still needed a social organ of coercion to maintain the monopoly over the means of production by a few and to exclude the working class from them except to work for wages and produce profits.

In any event, if Milei is elected president, there is no chance that he will abolish the state in Argentina. ‘Anarcho-capitalism’— capitalism without a coercive state — is a contradiction in terms.

Proper Gander: SSRIs and side effects (2023)

The Proper Gander column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

As many as one in seven people in the UK are prescribed antidepressants. While undoubtedly, medication helps lift many out of a debilitatingly low mood, for others, unexpected and unpleasant side effects have outweighed any benefits. Are My Antidepressants Worth It?, an episode of the documentary series Disclosure (BBC iPlayer) looked at the downsides of the medication, especially among young people in Scotland. Presenter Anton Ferrie and his team spoke with over a hundred people prescribed antidepressants about their experiences, along with doctors and researchers. The programme gave exposure to an important issue but predictably only gave hints of the wider context which explains why the problem has arisen.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the UK – sertraline, fluoxetine and citalopram – all fall under the category of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). As the name suggests, SSRIs impact on serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved with regulating mood, with each type working on the brain in a slightly different way. Doctors therefore need to make sure they prescribe the most appropriate type for each patient’s situation, particularly when the patient is a young person who is still developing. The programme includes a sad example of when the wrong decision has been made: Dylan Stallan was switched from fluoxetine to sertraline after he turned 18, and he ended his life two months later. An increased risk of suicide among young people associated with SSRI use is one of the concerns voiced by, among others, Dr David Healy and Prof Bernadka Dubicka in the documentary. As well as the risk of suicidal thoughts, other side effects of antidepressants can include insomnia, sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and sexual problems. Thousands of people have reported the latter persisting even after they have stopped taking SSRIs, enough for the complaint to have its own name: Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction. PSSD isn’t recognised as a separate condition by the NHS, though, partly because it’s not understood how much its symptoms (which can be as extreme as a numbing of all sexual feeling) are an after effect of the medication or are due to depression returning.

For some people taking antidepressants, it’s difficult for them to tell whether what they experience is a side effect or not. Rachel Coburn, the producer of the documentary, talked about being prescribed antidepressants for as long as 12 years, since she was 18. She said that she can sometimes be forgetful and is troubled by not knowing whether this is because of the medication or is just how she is. After taking the pills her whole adult life, she wondered ‘what lies beneath the citalopram’. Radio presenter Katie Thistleton asked herself the same question, and struggled through withdrawal symptoms when trying to come off her medication.

As the focus of the programme was on the general lack of awareness of the side effects of antidepressants, it only touched on other aspects of their use. Dr Ben Davis, a GP, made the point that a brief chat with a rushed doctor isn’t the best basis for a decision about long-term medication, especially for an issue as individual and complicated as mental health. An obvious conclusion from this is that the NHS doesn’t have enough funding to employ more GPs, counsellors and other specialists to meet need. A more fundamental issue is why that need is there, and growing. The numbers of people feeling depressed have been increasing over the decades, particularly among children. A study by the Nuffield Foundation published in 2012 ( found that the proportion of 15 and 16 year olds reporting that they frequently felt anxious or depressed had doubled since the early 1980s, from one in 30 to two in 30 among boys and one in 10 to two in 10 among girls. By 2021, as many as one in six children in England aged six to 16 years had a probable mental health disorder, according to the NHS ( Partly, this rise is because of more awareness and less stigma around mental health issues than in previous decades, so more people now feel able to access help. In this way, the normalisation of mental health issues has had a positive effect, but looked at from another angle, this increased awareness has come about because societal factors are pushing more people into this state of mind. It’s not surprising that depression is a likely reaction to the privations and alienation which come with life in our society, amplified in recent years by the Covid pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

And so the big pharmaceutical companies have come to our rescue by manufacturing the SSRIs to meet the expanding need. The way our healthcare system functions buys into the clout enjoyed by profit-hungry organisations like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Dr Healy has revealed how drug companies fund research into medicines, creating a bias towards their products which gets disguised by the studies’ academic credentials. The end result is that brands of antidepressants are promoted as the go-to option for busy GPs who realise that a prescription is a more prosaic option than to make a referral to join a lengthy waiting list for counselling. As Katie Thistleton says, antidepressants can be a sticking plaster but they can’t really solve the underlying problem.
Mike Foster

Capitalist Republic (2023)

Book Review from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Abolish the Monarchy. By Graham Smith. Penguin, 2023. £16.99

This book by the campaign group Republic’s CEO makes clear that its formal aspirations are for a liberal republic. They see the monarchy as something of left-over business (indeed, at one point in the book he actually argues that the rump of royal powers cannot be exercised because of the lack of legitimacy of the Crown, but that a president could deploy those powers: a cry for more executive power seems an odd stance for democrats).

In fact, the liberal fantasy gripping his work is on full display while he segues into discussing an elected House of Lords. Despite bemoaning the lack of imagination of those who can’t think past having a monarchy, he likewise cannot imagine a state without a bicameral legislature (albeit wanting all parts to be elected). Smith’s republicanism is simply wanting to continue the liberal project and sweep away the last vestiges of feudal power.

His book is worth reading for two features, though. The first is for his accounts of being a campaigning activist outside the political machines, and secondly for his attempts to describe a process of big reform to society, such as a wave of activism that sweeps away the monarchy. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a motor, beyond hope, for how this could come about, but nonetheless there is a certain, well, nobility in his continuing to plug away.

Smith, noting the predilection for the BBC to propagandise on behalf of the monarchy, says he is not suggesting a conspiracy, yet for the first half of the book he describes the very real secretive way the monarchy act and the determined way it protects itself. It is an organised conspiracy against the public, and by misunderstanding the nature of power beyond the formal and public roles, he is missing the real class nature of monarchy. Despite this, he is interesting on the actual real wealth the monarchy wields, and the way in which that buys considerable sway alone (especially as it has special access to the laws around which it can operate its businesses).
Pik Smeet

50 Years Ago: Chile: myth and reality (2023)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The events in Chile are already a myth. There, according to left and right-wing commentators alike, a democratically-elected Marxist government was overthrown by the armed forces, so proving the impossibility of establishing Socialism peacefully by using the existing machinery of limited political democracy.

Let us try to scotch this myth now by showing that the failure of the so-called Chilean experiment has absolutely no relevance to the question of whether or not Socialism can be established peacefully and democratically.

Allende and his Popular Unity were not Marxists and were not trying to establish Socialism. The programme of the Popular Unity, an alliance whose main elements were the so-called Socialist Party and the so-called Communist Party, was essentially one of state capitalism for Chile. It called for the break-up of the big landed estates, for the nationalisation of foreign-owned and some Chilean-owned industry, and for various social reforms. Even if implemented in full this programme would have left the basic position of the working class in Chile unchanged: they would have remained propertyless wage-workers forced to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer (even if the State) in order to live; production would have remained geared to the market; and the government would still, under pressure from the world market, have had to restrict the consumption of the working class in order to allow the maximum amount of surplus value to be extracted for re-investment.

Secondly, not only was the Allende government not trying to establish Socialism, but it did not even have majority support for its programme of state capitalism. Allende was elected President in September 1970 in a three-way contest, but with only 36 per cent of the vote. Subsequent elections showed that his government never did manage to acquire majority support. The last elections in March this year still gave its opponents 55 per cent of the vote.

Thirdly, because of this limited electoral support, the Popular Unity did not completely control the State machine. Parliament remained in the hands of its opponents who, although they did not have the two-thirds majority needed to impeach Allende himself, harassed his Ministers and delayed and altered his proposed laws.

For three years those whose vested interests were threatened by the coming of state capitalism to Chile—the American corporations, the Chilean landowners and big capitalists—sabotaged and plotted against the Allende government, but the fact remains that the conflict in Chile was between private capitalism and state capitalism, not between capitalism and Socialism.

That the limited democracy that existed in Chile has been a victim of this conflict can only be a matter of regret for Socialists. For, whatever its limitations, capitalist political democracy at least allows the working class to organise to defend its everyday interests and to discuss differing political views, including those of Socialists. Its suppression in Chile by a military junta represents, in this sense, a step backward for the working class of Chile—not that much of it would have survived had the Popular Unity’s full state capitalist programme been implemented, if the experience of Cuba is anything to go by.

But it still remains true that, in the quite different political conditions (which have never yet existed) of an immense majority of workers in all the industrialized countries of the world being Socialists and organised to win and control political power, Socialism could be established peacefully. The overthrow of a minority state capitalist government in Chile by forces acting on behalf of private capitalist groups will not deflect us from this position into urging the working class to adopt the futile and dangerous policy of armed insurrection.

(Socialist Standard, October 1973)

Action Replay: Running into the sand (2023)

The Action Replay column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Top footballers nearing the end of their careers have various choices when their legs begin to go and their skills start to fade. The US is one popular destination, and Lionel Messi, for instance, joined Inter Miami in July from Paris St Germain, and will be earning at least $50m a year.

But recently a new alternative has emerged, of players going to Saudi Arabia. At the end of last year, Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Al Nassr, at an annual salary of $200m; not bad for a 38-year-old. This August, Neymar left PSG for Al Hilal, for a transfer fee of €90m. There have been plenty of other examples too, with Saudi clubs having spent £753m on players from European sides this year, and the latter want guarantees that they will be paid on time.

One of the more controversial moves was that of Jordan Henderson from Liverpool to Al Ettifaq, which is managed by Steven Gerrard, who moved there in July after a rather mixed managerial career in the UK. While in Britain, Henderson frequently spoke out in support of the LGBT+ community, which made many people wonder why he had moved to a country where gay and lesbian sexual activity is illegal. His response was that the situation might change, and that ‘having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.’ Which might charitably be described as wishful thinking.

In 2022–3, the average attendance in the Saudi Pro League was just over nine thousand, though some clubs draw much larger crowds. Matches are broadcast on TV in various countries, though not by Sky or TNT. All this activity and spending has taken place since four top clubs were taken over by the Public Investment Fund, a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ (a kind of state-owned version of the likes of Blackrock). It’s part of Saudi Vision 2030, a project intended to increase various kinds of diversity in the country. In leisure terms, besides football, it also includes wrestling and live music concerts. It is run, of course, by the de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

The venture into football has created various kinds of controversy. The Fund owns Newcastle United, and there have been claims that when a Saudi club bought one Newcastle player, it inflated the price in order to help United’s finances. So the transfer market may be being disrupted, but then it’s never been, well, a level playing field.

Above all, the sporting side of Saudi Vision has been described by many as sportswashing, using sport to disguise nasty practices of one kind and another and promote the reputation of an individual or an organisation. And this time that goes even further, supposedly boosting the standing of a whole country, or at least its rulers.
Paul Bennett

Editorial: World poverty, boats and borders (2023)

Editorial from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The government has pledged to stop the flow of people crossing the channel in coffin boats, with little sign of success. The opposition, anxious to rebuild its Red Wall, is accusing them of doing nothing about it for too long.

How are the boat people to be described? The government calls them ‘illegal immigrants’. Charities prefer ‘refugees’ on the grounds that people will have more sympathy for them. Some will be (anybody from Afghanistan, for instance — who wouldn’t want to flee that hell-hole ruled by religious fanatics?). For others, they are ‘economic migrants’. Many, perhaps most, will be. For us as socialists, that doesn’t make any difference — they are fellow workers moving in a bid to find a better economic future under capitalism. They still have our sympathy.

We are living under capitalism which is a worldwide economic system, but divided politically into states (some 200 at the last count), and it is unrealistic to expect them to allow unrestricted immigration into their territory. It would cause them all sorts of economic and political problems. That doesn’t mean that they are against immigration as such. What they want is to control it.

The United States is known as a ‘nation of immigrants’. Britain is one too, with a population and working class that includes descendants of migrants first from Ireland and then from the other parts of its former empire. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are obvious examples. Even today, 40 percent of the population of London was born outside Britain.

With a declining birth rate, most European states still need, and actually want, more workers so as to keep and step up the flow of profits. What they don’t want is unregulated, disorderly immigration. But with conditions in other parts of the world so dire they can’t do much to stop it. In theory it might help if they stopped bombing or imposing sanctions on selected countries but geo-political rivalries rule that out. It’s a global problem to which there are no national solutions.

The slogan ‘No Borders’ is good in expressing an aspiration but is unrealistic under capitalism. It can be achieved only when we get socialism. As long as capitalism lasts there will be borders and border controls. The most that can be expected is capitalism coming to be organised into bigger and bigger political units within which there is free movement, as in the US and the EU.

Gary Lineker got it right. There is some scapegoating going on like in Germany in the 1930s. But not just like then. The same thing happened in Britain in the 1960s and 70s to scapegoat (legal) immigrants and, going further back, the anti ‘alien’ agitation of the first decade of the last century. Nationalism has never had anything going for it. It’s not only divisive but stupid.

As socialists we denounce all nationalist ideologies and the borders between so-called ‘nation states’, while pointing out that only a socialist world of common ownership can provide the framework within which global poverty can be eliminated once and for all.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Sting in the Tail: A saint he ain’t (1995)

The Sting in the Tail column from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

A saint he ain’t

Pope John XXIII, Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and Cardinal Newman are among more than 70 names being considered by the Church of England as candidates for its version of sainthood (Guardian, 12 July).

Bizarre choices, perhaps, but even more so is William Morris, 19th century artist and revolutionary socialist, who is also included.

Did Morris believe in God? After speaking about socialism at one meeting, Morris was told by a clergyman:
"That’s an impossible dream of yours, Mr Morris; such a Society would need God Almighty Himself to manage it. Morris got up . . . and shaking his fist to emphasise his words, he said, ‘well, damn it, man, you catch your God Almighty — we’ll have him!' "
Had he even any time for the C of E? Indeed “he drove home the fact that organised religion was one of the strongest pillars of capitalist orthodoxy’” (Both quotes from E.P. Thompson’s William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary).

Getting death-bed converts is one thing, but grave-robbing is something else.

More snouts for the trough

The horses galloped and the women in silly hats paraded alongside a select crowd of businessmen, politicians, diplomats, etc. A scene from Royal Ascot? No, this was Warsaw racecourse and the event was the Summer Gala held by the Business Centre Club (BCC), Poland’s equivalent of the CBI.

BCC’s chairman told the guests that the Club’s members, representing 600 companies with combined capital of $19.3 billion, “form the nucleus of Poland’s incipient middle-class”, and a Cardinal completely misjudged his audience by appealing “for ethics and fair play in business”.

All this is reported in the English-language newspaper Warsaw Voice (16 July) which also told us that, following the speeches, the guests “rushed” to get at the free food and drink provided, and added: “However, food and drink did not stand in the way’ of talk about money and new deals. ”

Ex-communists in the government arc apparently holding-up the development of full-blooded private enterprise capitalism in Poland, but not so as you’d notice.

Class confusion

Some workers imagine they are “professionals”, “middle class” or even “upper middle class”. They say “I get a salary not a wage, I wear a collar and tie and not hobnailed boots and overalls.”

Even capitalists are deluded about class. Paul McCartney, the musician and reputedly worth £420 million is clueless:
“People say’, ‘Oh no, you’re too rich to be working class ’and I say ‘No, no, it's a state of mind working class, it’s not a bank balance ’" (Independent on Sunday, 16 July).
It’s a daft situation when a £250-a-week clerk claims he is not working class and a multi-millionaire claims he is.

If you own little or nothing and have to seek work for a wage or a salary you are a member of the working class. If you own enough of the means of production and can live on rent, interest and profit you are a member of the capitalist class. Got it, Paul?

It ain’t you

While some workers desperately check their numbers on the National Lottery' and cut their expectations from millions to thousands and eventually to “Well, at least let’s hope the last number means I’ve won a tenner”; others connected with the scam are less anxious.

The Chief Executive of Camelot, Tim Holley, has a salary of £200,000 per year, benefits worth £11,367, a bonus of £ 120,000 and a pension contribution worth £112,000. He can expect another annual bonus of 50 percent of his salary if Camelot exceed target returns.

So while that big advertising ghostly finger points to Tim every week it is giving you the two-fingered salute.

A rich survey

Yet another survey of incomes and social attitudes has been published.

According to the Western Daily Press (12 July) this one, “Targeting the Rich and the Poor”, by Mintel Marketing Research, has come up with such startling revelations as, the rich are happier and more optimistic than the poor, and the rich will get richer while the poor will get poorer. Presumably, someone actually pays for this stuff

MMR defines the poor as households with an average weekly income of £112 while the rich have an average weekly income of £800. There’s no doubt that the former are poor but can most of the latter really be rich? Since £800 is an average then many in this category' must have incomes well below this.

Anyway, even £800 a week is peanuts compared to what the genuinely rich get, and in fact most of MMR’s “rich” are merely relatively well-paid workers. This “Targeting” has missed its mark by a mile.

It can be done

Who says that a moneyless society based on production for use and democratic control by the whole community is impossible?

The Johannesburg Star (24 June) provides evidence that the Sahrawi desert nomads of Western Sahara live in just such a society,  “In this strange society there is no money. Everyone works for the benefit of all", and there is democratic decision-making at every level.

No doubt the Sahrawi will eventually be drawn into the world-capitalist economy and their way of life will be eroded and finally destroyed, but they have shown that people can live in the way that we socialists advocate and work for.