Thursday, February 10, 2011

Material World: Training to kill, training to sell (2011)

The Material World Column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is aggression part of our human nature? Are we born killers? Socialists don’t think so. Nor, as it so happens, does Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a military psychologist who claims to have invented a new science called “killology”.

In his book On Killing, Grossman shows that without special conditioning almost all of us are extremely loath to kill anyone. For the “masters of war” (as folk singer Julie Felix called them) this is a big problem. Brigadier General Marshall found that only 15-20 percent of American foot soldiers in World War II ever fired their rifles (and some of those deliberately missed). Similar results have been obtained for the American Civil War and World War I.

We have powerful inhibitions against killing our own kind, and these inhibitions remain strong even when we are under direct threat of being killed ourselves. Trauma in war veterans is rooted mainly in feelings of guilt at having killed. Medics and others who though constantly exposed to the danger of death are not required to kill rarely suffer trauma.

How then did so many people manage to get killed in these wars?

Well, a tiny minority (2 percent) did enjoy killing and made a vastly disproportionate contribution to the body count. Also, inhibitions are much weaker when due to distance or for some other reason you can’t see your victim’s face. Where weapons are operated by teamwork, social pressure comes into play and the sense of personal responsibility is diffused. Finally, a soldier will generally kill if an officer is right behind him yelling: “Kill him, for Godsake, kill him!”

Training to kill
In response to Marshall’s study, the US armed forces developed more realistic and psychologically intrusive training methods. During physical exercise new soldiers chanted: “Kill, kill, kill, kill!” Instead of aiming at the bullseye on a geometrical target, they learned marksmanship by shooting at human-shaped silhouettes. And they were forced, by means of specially designed head and eyelid clamps, to watch many hours of gory war films that desensitised them to the sight of carnage.

The new conditioning methods were effective. The proportion of soldiers who fired their rifles soared to 50 percent in the Korean War and 90 percent or higher in Vietnam. At last soldiers were made to act like efficient killing machines. Of course, they were not really machines. As human beings they paid for their “improved performance” in intensified trauma.
Today’s young people are also being conditioned to kill by watching increasingly violent films and television programming. Most dangerous of all are interactive video games that simulate armed combat. Using the same methods as in military training, they inculcate the practical skills as well as the psychological response mechanisms needed for efficient killing.

Training to sell
I was struck by one of the reader’s reviews of On Killing at the Amazon site. The reviewer, a sales manager, comments that his profession has a problem that closely resembles the generals’ problem of soldiers who are reluctant to kill. Many of us, it appears, are not just insufficiently aggressive to kill people. We even aren’t aggressive enough to clinch a sale!

Perhaps, the reviewer muses, the same methods that work so well on soldiers could be adapted for use in the field of sales. The mind conjures up an image of squads of uniformed salespeople at boot camp, chanting “Sell, sell, sell, sell!” as they run.

The literature on training sales personnel discusses a dire condition called Inhibited Social Contact Initiating Syndrome or (more narrowly) Sales Call Reluctance. This syndrome, we learn, affects over a quarter of salespeople. They have negative thoughts and emotions that inhibit them from trying hard enough to sell things. Companies can test job applicants to screen out those prone to the malady by purchasing a “diagnostic” questionnaire (110 questions).

The emotions that inhibit sales workers from performing well are of various types – at least twelve, according to “behavioural scientist” George W. Dudley, author of The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance. Many, for instance, feel embarrassed to solicit sales from individuals of higher social status than themselves.

The main problem, however, is lack of aggression. People feel “distress, fear and anxiety” at the mere thought of seeming “pushy”.

Imposing your will
Sales coach Paula Crutchley has a confession to make: “When I first started in business, I sometimes felt overly concerned about the feelings of others.” (Shame on you, Paula!) View the initial sales contact as building a relationship, she advises. “This point of view will make the process easier on your soul.” Although she has learned not to be “overly” sensitive or considerate, her soul is still giving her trouble.

Her colleague Tom Crouser expresses a tougher outlook. Here is his comment on the “toxic condition” of “yielding to others”: “Children are taught that it’s rude to impose your will on anyone. But selling is all about imposing your will on others.” Being a manager, he adds, is also all about imposing your will on others.

The soldier, the salesperson and the manager do indeed share a common plight. They are required by their bosses to dominate others. However, it is not their own will that they impose, but rather the will of those who dominate them and others through them. In order to impose this alien will, they must constantly suppress their own. The clash between this inner will and the insecurely internalised will of the boss causes them agonising inner conflict and confusion. The class struggle rages within their souls.

Made in Dagenham (2011)

Film Review from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Made in Dagenham, depicts the true-life struggle of female workers for equal pay, in 1968 in the Ford Plant in Dagenham.

Produced by ‘BBC Films’, it stars Sally Hawkins as Rita O’Grady, the girls’ main spokesperson, Rosamund Pike, as Lisa Hopkins, the wife of a Ford executive, who opposes him when the women strike, and Miranda Richardson, who delivers a crackerjack performance as Minister for Employment, Barbara Castle. Castle is initially angry that after two years of Labour goverment, with a large minority, they’ve had 26,000 strikes, lost five million working days and now, these women want to add to it.

Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968 was the fourth largest auto manufacturing plant in the word, producing 3,000 cars a day. It comprised an area of 42 million square feet, employed 55,000 men and 187 women. The women were previously classified as semi-skilled, but were demoted to being unskilled with a corresponding pay cut, which wasn’t objected to by the Union.

According to their shop steward, played by Bob Hoskins, “This has nothing to do with being unskilled. Ford decided to pay you less, because they can, because you’re women.”

Initially, the strike, opposed by the Union, was to upgrade the women to semi-skilled status but under O’Grady’s fiery leadership, became a battle for equal pay for equal work. The women, all 187 of them, sewed seat covers, but nowhere in Made do you see one man doing that; equal work?

Most of the movie deals with opposition from men in various areas. The overall view is, in 1968, most Englishmen were chauvinistic. Though this reviewer hasn’t lived in England since 1966, he knows the depiction was reasonably accurate.

Without seat covers the Plant shut down. Laid-off male workers bitterly opposed the strikers, which caused problems in the marriages of couples who were both employed at Ford. O’Grady’s husband was extremely nasty when their fridge was repossessed. This made the women more bitter, considering they were supportive of the men when they were on strike.

Union leaders begged them to return to work. One, in a fit of profundity, declaimed, “Marx said men make history; he didn’t say women make history.” The word ‘man’ in the greater sense, which is how Marx meant it, carries no gender connotation.

In desperation, an executive from head office in Detroit came over to put the world to rights. This economic genius argued, to grant equal pay, would shoot up the price of product, which would kill the market. Surveys have shown, an average of 7 percent of the price goes to wages and salaries, including that of high-price CEOs. A few years before the strike London busmen were out all summer for higher wages. A survey, conducted a year later, showed that for every pound received in extra fares, only two shillings (then one tenth) went towards wages.

Perhaps the most perceptive comment in the movie is when Lisa Hopkins tells the guy from Detroit, Ford should take a leaf from Vauxhall’s book and not be so aggressive towards the union. Though Hopkins didn’t say it, this aggression stems from the early days when Henry Ford did all in his considerable powers, to prevent unions getting a foothold in his plant.

After crashing the Union’s national conference, the delegates vote in favour of equal pay and Castle, realising the women won’t quit, sides with them even after being warned by Harold Wilson, “Don’t upset Ford, I’ve enough trouble with Americans.” The women settle for 93 percent of their demand. In 1970 the UK Parliament passed the Equal Pay Act, which was soon adopted by other countries. Even Ford management accepted it.

The movie, directed by Nigel Cole, is well acted, fast moving, totally absorbing and contains some humour, arising from real life situations. Perhaps, the funniest is when an attractive girl finks on the rest by entering the plant for a photo shoot and double crosses the company.

Though Made is recommendable, this reviewer has one small quibble. The thrust of it is no different to millions of movies; you don’t know what you can do until you try. Certainly, one must admire O’Grady and her friends, who had no previous experience of negotiating and propagandising. Nevertheless, Made depicts people fighting for improvements within capitalism. At one point, the shop steward says, “Someone has to stop those exploiting bastards from getting away with what they’ve been getting away with for years.” Meaning forcing them to be less exploitative. The question of no exploitation full stop, is never addressed. One thing which Marx said that the union official never repeated is “…abolition of The Wages System.” The most a Socialist can say about the women is their aims were alright as far as they went, but they didn’t go far enough. For real equality, a society where all will stand equal in relation to the tools of production, is the only answer.
Steve Shannon

Cooking the Books: Ed’s Dad (2011)

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

“My Dad,” Labour Leader Ed Miliband told BBC Radio 5, “would have considered himself a socialist too, but he would have said we need to have public ownership of everything.” ((London) Times, 27 November).

It’s true, his dad, Ralph Miliband, was a left-winger who identified “socialism” with full-scale nationalisation, or state capitalism – as we pointed out in a review of his book The State in Capitalist Society in the August 1969 Socialist Standard:
“This is a confusing book in which Miliband sets out to prove what he takes to be the Marxist theory of the state. Although he does define his terms he uses words like ‘capitalism’ and ‘class’ in a non-Marxist way. Capitalism, he holds, is based on private enterprise, private profit and private accumulation. This raises suspicions, which are confirmed, that he has an odd view of Socialism too. Russia, he says, is ‘collectivist’, ‘non-capitalist’ and, in an unguarded moment, even ‘socialist’. The concept of state capitalism is clearly unintelligible to him and is nowhere discussed, not even in relation to nationalisation in the West.”
Nationalisation is not socialism as it is only a change of owner and employer, leaving workers still having to sell their labour power for a wage or salary and still exploited for surplus value. In the West the former owners were paid compensation and so continued to receive a property income but as interest on government bonds rather than as dividends. In Russia the beneficiaries were those who dictatorially controlled the state and awarded themselves a privileged income as bloated salaries, prizes, country houses and other benefits in kind.

Ralph Miliband’s best known book is probably his 1961 critical history of the Labour Party from a leftwing Labour point of view, Parliamentary Socialism. In the concluding chapter, entitled “The Sickness of Labourism” he observed:
“By the late fifties, the Labour leaders, obsessed as they were with the thought of electoral success, had come to be more convinced even than were their predecessors that the essential condition for that success was to present the Labour Party as a moderate and respectable party, free from class bias, ‘national’ in outlook, and whose zeal for reform would always be tempered by its eager endorsement of the maxim that Rome was not built in a day – or even in a century. Never indeed had Labour leaders been so haunted by a composite image of the potential Labour voter as quintessentially petit-bourgeois, and therefore liable to be frightened off by a radical alternative to Conservatism.”
Plus ├ža change. There was nothing new about New Labour, except that Blair succeeded where Gaitskell failed in getting rid of Clause 4, which committed Labour on paper to full-scale state capitalism.

He went on to quote from the study of the 1959 General Election by David Butler and R. Rose their view that the Labour Party “as in all recent elections …played down any claim to stand, as a socialist party, for a radically different form of society …it asked the voters to say that it could administer the mixed economy welfare state better than the Conservatives”.

Which is precisely what Ed Miliband is on record as promising to try to do. As he told the Observer (29 August): “I’ll make capitalism work for the people”. Oh no, he won’t – because that’s not possible, not even if he followed his dad’s line and nationalised everything. State capitalism can’t be made to work for the people either.

Editorial: The power to change the world (2011)

Editorial from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is always inspiring to see people power in action, as in Tunisia last month, where it forced the local dictator to flee after twenty-three years in power. It shows that people are not always passive victims but have the potential to topple capitalism not just dictators.

In all countries society is divided into two classes: those who own and control productive resources and want them operated to bring them a financial profit and the rest of the population who depend on them to live.

All governments have to give priority to profits and profit-making as this is what drives the capitalist economy. When profits are under pressure, as at present, they have to impose an added austerity on the population which inevitably brings them into conflict with them.

One of the key jobs of any government is to keep the population quiet, basically to avoid them rioting. In a developing capitalist country such as Tunisia this can’t be done without regular recourse to brute force. Which is why most of the governments of such countries are more or less authoritarian, compared, that is, with those of the more developed countries where lies and trickery generally do the job.

This situation is tacitly accepted by Western governments as they want social peace, however obtained, in the countries where they have profit-seeking investments. They need governments there that keep the people down. As long as a government does this they can expect support, as Ben Ali got from France for years. But woe betide a dictator unable to stop the population getting out of hand. He may initially continue to be supported but eventually an exit strategy will be prepared for him – exile in a country where he and his family can live off the loot all far-seeing dictators stash away.

When a dictatorship is toppled people feel empowered by what they have done but that is not enough. One demonstrator in Tunisia, asked what he expected to happen next, replied simply “I don’t care. I’m just glad to see the back of him”. But “what next?” is the key question as kicking out a dictator does not change the economic realities of capitalism – nor the repressive role of governments.

We take no pleasure in pointing out that any new government in Tunisia, even though less corrupt (or not corrupt at all) and enjoying more legitimacy, will still have to keep the population down in the interests of capitalism.

The only way the population in Tunisia, and elsewhere, can avoid having to protest at an artificial scarcity being imposed on them in a world of potential plenty is to join with workers in the rest of the world to get rid of capitalism, its class rule and its production for profit. This means making the natural and industrial resources of the Earth the common heritage of humanity. It means establishing a world without borders where the resources which already exist can be used to provide plenty for all