Monday, May 28, 2007

Voice From The Back - The Sick Society (2007)

From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sick Society
These two items appeared in the same newspaper on the same day. "Patients are being denied basic operations, including treatments for varicose veins, wisdom teeth and bad backs, as hospitals try frantically to balance the books by the end of the financial year. . . . NHS trusts throughout the country are making sweeping cuts to services and delaying appointments in an attempt to address their debts before the end of March." and "Thousands of doctors qualified to become consultants could face unemployment instead, the NHS says. A leaked copy of the Government's pay and workforce strategy reveals that by 2011 there will be 3,200 more consultants than there are jobs." (Times, 4 January) What a crazy society - people left to suffer health problems while health workers are out of a job.

A Brave New World?
The World Watch Institute in Washington paints a gloomy picture of the future in its recent report. "The population of the world's slums is set to soar by more than 500 million within 25 years experts said yesterday . . . And half the extra people will be crammed into ghettoes and shanty towns, unless plans for urban renewal are speeded up, forecasters warned. . . . David Satterthwaite, of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said a shake-up of urban government would be the most pressing issue over the next 20 years. "Without this, cities become among the most polluted and dangerous places, where one in four children dies before the age of five." he added." (Metro, 10 January) Even Aldous Huxley and George Orwell could not have imagined such a future, but then they were only novelists and not scientific socialists.

The Distortion Of Science (1)
The motive behind capitalism is to make a profit and to hell with all other consideration. A perfect example of this is the following news item. "Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate report due to be published today. Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an Exxon-Mobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." (Guardian, 2 February) Could anything be more obvious? Here is a couple of bucks just do as you are told.

The Distortion Of Science (2)
It is not only oil companies that seek to distort scientific research in the interests of profits, here is a recent example of the pharmaceutical industry at the same game. "According to a study published last week by accountancy group PwC, the public, doctors and health insurers believe the industry has put profits before patients, abandoning its original vision of improving health and alleviating pain. . . . All over the world, drugs companies are in an expensive race with each other to come up with new treatments and market them, sometimes aggressively, to health specialists. The public backlash comes after a number of high-profile drugs were withdrawn following allegations of dangerous side-effects." (Observer, 4 February) For a couple of bucks these companies will do anything.

The Distortion Of Art
Artists like Van Gough and Modogliani may have died in poverty and their modern equivalents may share a similar fate, but that was not a considerations at the latest Sotheby's auction. "Up to £140 million is expected to exchange hands this week in a series of sales of Impressionists, modern and contemporary works, well in excess of the £89.45 million achieved last February and the £109.3 million in June. ... Although the weak dollar may in turn have deterred some American collectors from buying last night, few expect it to dent the enthusiasm of the richest regulars such as Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, Steve Winn, a Las Vegas casino owner, and Steve Cohen, the Wall Street hedge-fund billionaire who is believed to have spent about $500 million (£250 million) on art in recent years." (Times, 6 February) Artists may die in a garret, so what? It helps the rich to increase their portofolio of wealth. As someone once said - "They know the price of everything but the value of nothing."

The Distortion Of Honesty
All workers are taught at school the importance of honesty and integrity, but it is obviously a lesson that is not on the curriculum of the schools that capitalists attend, to judge from this news item about events in South Korea. "The chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, the sixth largest carmaker in the world, was sentenced yesterday to three years in jail after being convicted of embezzlement and breach of trust. . . . Chung was accused of embezzling 103.4 billion won (£56 million) from company affiliates." (Times, 6 February) The report went on to mention other chairmen that had been caught with their hands in the till. Chung Tae So, of Hanoi, sentenced to 15 years' jail for bribery. Chung Ming Hun, of Hyundai Asian, kills himself awaiting trial. Lee Kun He, of Samsung, apologises for corporate misgoverned and alleged bribery by making big charity donation. Kim Woo Choom, founder of Daewoo, receives ten-year jail term for fraud. Fellow workers, perhaps as we contemplate this week's pay packet or giro cheque we may ponder the wisdom of our old school teacher. We could ask ourselves, how many were not caught in this country and how many of them get away with it?

And Now For The Good News
Every day in the newspapers and television we are bombarded with stories of war, crime and world hunger. So after extensive research we have come across a news item that will hearten workers instead of depressing them. In 1961 there were nearly 55,000 christian churches in England and Wales. "By 2005 the number of churches had fallen to 47,600. According to the organisation Christian Research, another 4,000 are likely to go in the next 15 years. In the Church of England alone, which still has 16.000 churches, 1,700 have been made redundant since 1969." (Times, 10 February)

Politics of Pop (1968)

From the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
This article is also included in the book, Socialism or Your Money Back, that was published in 2004 to mark the centenary of both the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Standard.

"The Commandments say 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' and half the world is in training to annihilate the other half. Nobody would get me in uniform and off to Aden to kill a lot of people I've never met and have nothing against anyway. I know people say they are against wars and yet they go on fighting them. Millions of marvellous young men are killed and in five minutes everybody seems to have forgotten all about it. War stems from power-mad politicians and patriots."

Except for the final comment, this could be a socialist speaking in Hyde Park. In fact, it is Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones giving his views on war and militarism. On many other questions his ideas come close to the arguments which socialists use. For example, he is outspokenly anti-religious and opposed to marriage. While he does not appear to relate any of this to the class structure of society, he does at least look upon private property as a curse.
"There should be no such thing as private property. Anybody should be able to go where he likes and do what he likes."

Jagger calls himself an anarchist and, like most anarchists, his weak point is his failure to understand how capitalism works. Politicians he claims are "a dead loss" and it is they who are responsible for wars, the legal system and the rest of it.
"Politics, like the legal system, is dominated by old men. Old men who are also bugged by religion."

Socialists would reply that it is not the individuals, such as Wilson, who administer capitalism who are to blame but the system of society itself. Nor would we accept that it is the "old men" who have landed the world in its present mess. Even Jagger must recognise that he is in the minority among young people; most youth are just as ardent supporters of private property as their fathers and grandparents. In fact, one has to look no further than some of the other groups competing on the pop scene to see just how committed they are to capitalism, religious superstitions and all.

Probably the most depressing case is the Beatles. An immensely talented and versatile group, politically they seem be about as wet as they come. One of them, George Harrison, is convinced, like Jagger, that is the "old men" who are the cause of the world's problems.
"I think music is the main interest of the younger people. It doesn't really matter about the older people now because they're finished anyway. There's still going to be years and years of having all these old fools who are governing us are bombing us and doin' all that because, you know, it's always them."

Confronted by this, Harrison's philosophy is to shut his eyes and pretend it isn't there. He sees an individual way out in meditation. Everything in the material world is superficial, he argues; it is only by burrowing deep inside yourself that you can find god and personal fulfilment.
"If you can contact that absolute state you can just tap that amazing source of energy and intelligence. It's there, anyway you've just got to contact it and then it will make whatever you do easier and better. Everything in life works out better because everybody is happier with themselves."

This might be a comforting creed to someone with Harrison's wealth but unemployed workers in Birmingham or hungry peasants in Bengal are likely to be slightly less impressed by the miraculous powers of meditation. The Beatles' spiritual mentor, the so-called Maharishi Mahesh Yog, obviously has a shrewd understanding of this and restricts his missionary efforts to the clientele of the London Hilton and such places. The Maharishi, a sort of latter-day Rasputin with mental powers seem to be in inverse proportion to his impressive title, is at least a magnificent showman. Some his profundities have to be heard to be believed:
"I think ladies meditate comparatively more successfully because the quality of heart is more developed in the ladies than in the men, and therefore the waves of joy are more aroused, and that's why the joy is felt more. The heart is more - a mother's heart is much more much more wavy - more waves, deeper waves rise in mother's heart than in the father's heart. An experience of bliss does need a more capable instrument of emotion."

People who fall for this sort of rot will obviously be taken in by anything and, like Rasputin, the Maharishi seems to have a low opinion of those who provide him with a comfortable living. Interviewed recently in Bremen (West Germany) he was reported to have laughingly remarked that "no matter where I am people will find in me the commodity that they want."

As well as their hatred of the "old men", Jagger and Harrison have another trait in common - their dislike of oppression. Yet there are plenty of pop singers with other ideas - some openly racialist, others advocatíng dictatorship. P. J. Proby, for example, is fond of making half-witted generalisations about negroes - "They're always asking for handouts. They don't have any real dignity." Another singer with totalitarian sympathies is Scott Walker who, like Harold Wilson, has a passion for telling the working class what is wrong with them. According to Walker we have all gone flabby in the West and we ought to have this knocked out of us by a good dose of Stalinism.
"Russians have an unbelievable strength, nothing shakes them. The workers here should have the same opportunities, they should be educated on radio and television. They need a good dose of propaganda and more than anything else they need a form of dictatorship again . . . then we'd be all right again."

The politics of pop are worth looking at not because pop singers are anybody in particular but because most of them are from the working class and, to a certain extent, their ideas are typical of the lines which young workers think along.

One of the most widespread of their illusions is the feeling that the fundamental division in society isbetween young and old, rather than between the working class and the propertied class. Prejudices such as his are just as dangerous as racialism because they obscure the fact that the real conflict in society is between classes - not generations. The gulf which separates a young worker from a young capitalist is immeasurably wider than that which exists between two workers of different ages.

Whatever superficial differences there might be in styles of dress or tastes in music, working men are united as a class by the fact that eachone of us has to sell his labour power to the capitalists. In the same way the capitalist class stand together, whatever generation they might identify themselves with as individuals, because collectively they live off the surplus value which they wring out of the working class. It would be nice to have a few politically conscious pop singers who recognised this but, in the end, it doesn't matter that much. After all it is not a few individuals like George Harrison or Mick Jagger who are going to win the revolution but the millions of working men and women, young and old, who make up the working class.

Let's finish by giving the floor to Jimmy Savile - one of the most successful DJ's in the pop business. Preaching in a church near Halifax just before Christmas he sent up a prayer to capitalism which would have warmed the heart of any Victorian mill owner or steel baron.
"For the first few years, I worked down a coal mine. Now I have hit this 'gold seam' and I say, 'Thank you, Lord, business is good.'"

For the rest of us, who are still working down the mines, or in the factories and offices, how many of us feel like echoing Jimmy's pious gratitude? The only "golden seam" we are ever likely to hit is socialism. And that won't be thanks to any gods but just to our own revolutionary initiative.
John Crump

Voice From The Back: How The Other Tenth Live (2007)

From the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard


The trial for fraud and tax avoidance of Lord Black threw up this insight into the parasitical nature of the owning class. "If only his wife hadn't boasted about her extravagant lifestyle in an interview, Lord Black's empire might still span three continents. It was to readers of Vogue in 2002 that Barbara Amiel showed off the size of her wardrobe, the racks of designer clothes inside, and talked of how 'her extravagance knows no bound'. She confided: 'It is always best to have two planes, because however well one plans ahead, one always finds one in the wrong continent'" (Times, 10 March)


"At least 11 people were killed and 39 injured yesterday when farmers in eastern India, angered over government plans to build an industrial park on their land, fought police with rocks, machetes and pickaxes. The clashes broke out when police tried to enter villages in Nandigram, West Bengal, where the government wants to build a petrochemical plant and a shipyard. All those killed in the clashes were farmers." (Times, 15 March) Away back in 1867 Karl Marx was describing in Capital this capitalist process that he called "the so-called primitive accumulation" in Europe from the 16th century onwards. "The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process."


The gulf between rich and poor under this Labour government has become so great that even the capitalist class are warning the government about it. "Gordon Brown's closest ally in the City has warned that the gap between rich and poor in Britain is now so deep that it threatens to provoke 'violent reactions' in society. Sir Ronald Cohen, a venture capitalist, also warned on the eve of Brown's last Budget that the boom in the City was in danger of grinding to a halt. Asked whether the huge wealth flooding to an elite group of City professionals was disfiguring society, he agreed, adding: 'I think we're at the top of the cycle. I think the pendulum has swung too far'". (Observer, 18 March)


The Observer has a supplement each week called "Escape", containing articles about various holiday destinations, and, of course, many advertisements for holidays. Why do they call it "Escape"? It is targeted at all the people whose jobs are so boring or so stressful that they feel they can stand it only if they can get away for a short break in the summer. And the enormous size of the holiday industry shows that there are very many such people. But how can such a holiday be called an "escape" when it is of strictly limited duration, and all the holidaymakers know they will have to go back afterwards to the very same conditions which made them long to "escape" in the first place? "Escape" is clearly the wrong word. Whoever heard of a daring escape from prison or a prisoner-of-war camp, when the successful escapee celebrated his release by going back in two weeks' time to the main gate and asking to be re-admitted?


The previous item brings to mind the story that an old Glasgow speaker was fond of telling from the outdoor platform. An Eastern potentate was visiting a Glasgow factory when the lunch-time hooter sounded and all the workers made a bee-line for the canteen. "Look out, sir. Your slaves are escaping." "Don't worry, Omar. Wait 40 minutes." Sure enough 40 minutes later the hooter sounded and the wage slaves streamed back into the factory. "Amazing", cried the eastern visitor. "I must buy some of these magic hooters."


Supporters of the Labour Party are always telling socialists that while Labour may not be socialists "at least they get things done". Here is a recent example. "The number of children living in poverty jumped by 100,000 last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said, showing that the government is not on course to meet its target of halving child poverty by 2010-11. In 2005-06, 2.8 million children lived in poverty." (Times, 3 April) It would seem that what is "getting done" is the working class in Britain.