Saturday, November 30, 2013

Karl Marx: Anthropologist (2013)

From the November 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
Text of a talk given by guest speaker Brian Morris at a Socialist Party meeting in London on 21 April this year
The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski began his well-known history of Marxism with the words ‘Karl Marx was a German philosopher’. True: Marx studied philosophy at the University of Berlin in his early twenties, and had a passion for German philosophy, particularly that of Hegel, but it hardly needs saying that Marx cannot be understood simply as a philosophical thinker. Better known, perhaps, as a political journalist, an erudite economist, and a revolutionary socialist, Marx was also, in an important sense, an anthropologist, for he always repudiated scholastic metaphysics. He can indeed be described as one of the founding ancestors of anthropology.

But what also has to be recognized is that Marx was an absolutely voracious reader, endlessly taking notes on everything that he read. He was therefore well versed not only in philosophy, economics, history and the natural sciences, but also in literature, being particularly fond of the poetry of Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Goethe. Marx had a truly encyclopaedic mind, a restless and inquiring intellect, and was interested, as an anthropologist, in understanding all aspects of life.

The German Enlightenment scholar Immanuel Kant – like Marx Kant was more than simply a philosopher – famously defined anthropology as the study of what it means to be human. Marx's anthropology, as Thomas Patterson affirmed, was largely derived from the Enlightenment. It was a kind of anthropology, however, that was critical, dialectical and historical, and it involved the embrace of some of the key tenets of the Enlightenment legacy: the importance of rationality, and the use of reason, along with that of empirical knowledge; the acknowledgement of the existence of the natural world independent of human cognition and representation; the fundamental importance of human freedom; the denial of all knowledge claims based on authority or mystical intuition; and a recognition of the historicity not only of nature but of human beings and human social life and culture.

Scholars within the Enlightenment tradition, scholars as different as Erich Fromm and Bruce Trigger, have long recognized that there is an essential ‘paradox’, or basic contradiction at the heart of human life, an inherent duality in social existence. On the one hand humans are fundamental organic beings, and intrinsically a part of nature. On the other hand, through their self-consciousness, sociality and symbolic culture they are in a sense unique and separate from nature. They have what Cicero called a ‘second nature’. The social ecologist Lewis Mumford suggested that humans have a ‘twofold’ life. Anthropology, as Marx envisaged it, firmly embraced this paradox, putting an equal emphasis on our organic life and our shared humanity (as with Kant) and on the social and cultural diversity of human life (as with Herder). As Marx expressed it in his definition of communism, anthropology entailed a combination of naturalism and humanism.

Drawing on the Enlightenment legacy, Marx's anthropology, as a study of what it means to be human, is focussed around four key concepts – namely, nature, society, history and science - concepts which some contemporary anthropologists treat with unwarranted scepticism, if not with derision. We may explore Marx's own conception of anthropology and the human subject in relation to these four fundamental concepts.

Although Marx was an ontological realist, affirming the existence of a physical world independent of humans, this, of course, did not imply a dualistic metaphysic (as Karl Popper implied), or the idea that humans were independent of nature. To the contrary, Marx, in contrast to most sociologists and contemporary postmodernist anthropologists, strongly emphasized that humans were natural beings, and intrinsically a part of nature. As he put it: ‘nature is man's inorganic body’. For Marx, humans were natural beings. They were active, living beings, embodied, sensuous, conscious, with feelings and emotions, and with inherent dispositions and capacities, as well as being, like other animals, limited, conditioned and suffering beings. The relationship between humans and nature was thus essentially dialectical, not simply relational.

This meant, of course, for Marx, that any understanding of human social life (or history) must begin with one basic premise: namely, the existence of human individuals, and the fact of their inter-relationship with the rest of nature. It was through their productive relations, their creative interactions with nature to meet then-basic needs, that humans produced their material life, or what Marx described as their ‘modes of life’. Forms of consciousness, specifically culture or ideology, emerged, he felt, from within these ‘real-life processes’. As Marx famously put it: ‘life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life’.

Whether or not this implies a form of economic determinism has long been debated by scholars from right across the political spectrum. Given that Marx was essentially a dialectical thinker, the material aspects of human life must be seen as the basis or anchorage for cultural configurations, or what Ernst Cassirer described as symbolic forms (art, religion, philosophy, science) rather than involving any direct causal relationship.

Yet it is important to recognize that Marx fervently rejected the idea of a fixed human nature or essence, for in being a part of nature, rather than the creation of some divine agent, humans had evolved historically. Marx saw no antithesis between nature and human history, and like Darwin, stressed the historicity of human nature. His lifelong associate and friend, Friedrich Engels, wrote a famous essay entitled The Part Played by Labour in the Transition From Ape to Man, stressing the importance of labour – human productive inter-actions with nature – in the emergence of ‘modern’ humans. Along with erect posture, the expansion and re-organisation of the human brain, the dexterity of the human hand, tool-making, language and symbolic culture, and the emergence of a more complex society, labour is seen by Engels (and Marx) as the key factor in the emergence of Homo sapiens.

The important point, of course, is that humans are not only natural beings, but also, Marx insisted, human natural beings, species-beings, with sociality and self-consciousness. Humans, therefore, as Marx continually stressed, are social beings, always enmeshed in a complex web of social relations. Our relationship with nature is therefore always intrinsically social, and even our perceptions of nature are socially and culturally mediated, though not wholly determined by our culture.

Importantly, as with later sociologists, Marx emphasized that human perceptions, thoughts and actions, are shaped to an important degree by the patterns of social relations, and the cultures into which humans are born, and which they help to actualize, maintain or transform. Marx famously remarked that humans make their own history but they do not make it just as they please, for past traditions always influence living humans. Marx was, therefore, one of the first social scientists to explore what later became known as the ‘duality’ between social structures (relations) and human agency, and, for Marx, this relationship between social forms and the human individual was always interdependent and dialectical.

Marx was therefore always critical of the two extremes in approaching this ‘duality’. The first extreme, as reflected later in Durkheimian sociology and culture theory (in its various guises) virtually oblates human agency, viewing human thought and action as largely determined or an ‘effect’ of either symbolic culture (as with Leslie White and many postmodernists) or ideology (Althusser) or power (Foucault). Marx was critical of such sociological determinism, and (again) famously remarked:
‘History (that is, social life) does nothing, it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles! It is real living men who do all this .. .History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends’.
On the other hand, Marx was equally critical of the other extreme, which tended to put a fundamental emphasis on the individual, and to downplay or ignore the importance of history, and of social relations and culture. He was therefore always critical of the ‘abstract’ individual of the classical philosophers, who seemingly posited the human individual as outside nature and society. He thus made some trenchant criticisms of Feuerbach's humanism, Stirner's radical individualism, which in its emphasis on the unique ‘ego’ dismissed humanity as a ‘spook’, and the asocial possessive individualism of Hobbes and the bourgeois political economists. The political economists (Ricardo and Adam Smith) Marx famously dismissed as ‘Robinsonades’ (after Robinson Crusoe), for they began their analysis with the notion of a rational isolated individual, detached from social bonds, and assumed that this was a reflection of human nature.

In terms of contemporary social theory, Marx rejected both ‘sociological collectivism’ (or holism, mystical or otherwise) and methodological individualism (Popper and rational choice theorists).

Many scholars have stressed that Marx viewed the human subject as a dialectical unity, as intrinsically and simultaneously both a natural and a social being. But as a revolutionary socialist Marx also emphasised that all humans have a unique personal identity – a sense of self with moral and social agency. And he was centrally concerned not with autonomy, but rather with social freedom, and the self-expression of the human individual. Marx thus expressed an understanding of the human subject in terms of a triadic ontology.

To illustrate this we may turn to the American anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, the engaging ethnographer of the Navaho. Kluckhohn once suggested that there were three distinctive ways of conceiving the human person; firstly that in some respects every person is like every other human being – as a species-being; secondly that they are like no other human being in having a unique personality (or self); and, finally, that they have affinities with some other humans in being social and cultural beings. These three aspects of the human subject are an essential expression of the fact that humans are always embedded in three historical processes, namely, the phylogenetic, pertaining to the evolution of humans as a species-being (humanity); the ontogenetic, which relates to the individual as a unique, embodied and psychological being (self); and, finally, the socio-historical, which situates the human individual as a person, in a specific historical and ecological context.

Like Kant and Marcel Mauss, Marx therefore always recognized that the human being had, always and simultaneously, three distinct ‘natures’; a) as a species-being, a human nature (or identity) with essential needs, powers, capacities, and a history; b) as a ‘communal being’ or ‘an ensemble of social relations’ (as Marx put it), a person who enacted specific social roles and expressed certain social identities; and c) as an individual being, a self with a unique personality and subjective and moral agency. Marx was a humanist, in that he always emphasised the ‘individuality’ of the human person, and the fundamental importance of human freedom, viewed in terms of the self-determination and the self-expression of the individual. But like the social anarchists, Marx recognized and stressed that such freedom could only be achieved by the creation, through collective practice and struggle, of a truly socialist society, for humans were fundamentally social beings. Freedom, for Marx, was social not metaphysical.

Within the Marxist tradition there has long been an on-going debate, and at times harsh polemical exchanges, between two contrasting interpretations of Marx.

On the one hand, there are those who are usually described as critical theorists or Hegelian Marxists, who stress the continuity between Marx and German philosophy, particularly that of Hegel. They focus on Marx's early writings on philosophical anthropology, situate themselves in the more literary and philosophical traditions of European culture, and adopt a more ‘historicist’ and ‘humanistic’ interpretation of Marx. The emphasis is on ‘dialectics’, ‘humanism’ and history, and they often express an aversion to science. A classic example is Erich Fromm, who described Marx as an existentialist humanist, centrally concerned with human dignity and freedom.

On the other hand, there are those Marxists who focus on Marx's later writings, particularly his profound analysis of modern capitalism Das Kapital (1867), which is essentially a work of empirical anthropology, replete with a welter of ethnographic data on industrial production and human life under capitalism. Such Marxists suggest that Marx made a clean break with Hegel's historicist philosophy, along with dialectics, and had pioneered a new scientific way of understanding human history. Louis Althusser is a key exemplar of the tendency to interpret Marx's anthropology as a ‘science of history’. But in being stridently ‘anti-humanist’ and derisory towards history, Althusser tended to express a rather abstract and synchronic form of scientific understanding.

What many scholars have suggested, however, is that Marx's anthropology is best understood as a unique attempt to establish a dialectical social science. Marx thus envisaged anthropology as a historical science, one that would combine dialectics and science, historicism (humanism) and materialism (naturalism). It involved a rejection of both cultural idealism and positivism and all forms of reductive materialism. As Marx put it: ‘the abstract materialism of a natural science that excludes the historical process is defective’, for the only viable approach to the understanding of social life is one that is both materialist and historical. Such scientific understanding, therefore, involves going beyond phenomenological description by exploring – explaining – how social and cultural phenomena ‘came into being’. The anthropologist Franz Boas put this succinctly ‘To understand a phenomenon we have to know not only what it is, but also how it came into being. Our problem is historical’.

Marx's anthropology can therefore be described in summary as at once dialectical, historical, materialist and scientific, as well as reflecting the ‘critical spirit’ of the Enlightenment.

Marx, of course, was primarily interested in economics and political theory, and is mainly known for writing the famous Communist Manifesto (1848) (along with Engels), and for his substantial economic treatise Das Kapital. But it has to be recognized that Marx was a world-historical thinker. As a political journalist he wrote extensively on India and colonialism. Always fascinated by the diversity of human societies, both in the past and in his own time, Marx became deeply involved in studying pre- capitalist modes of production - communal (tribal societies), ancient (the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome), Germanic, Asiatic, Slavonic (specifically Russian serfdom) and European feudalism. These formed the socio-historical context with regard to the emergence and the expansion of the capitalist world economy. While in his last years Marx filled several notebooks – the ethnological notebooks -with observations and reflections on diverse anthropological topics, ranging from ‘primitive communism’ to the family and gender in the Roman Empire – notes derived from extensive reading. Marx was particularly interested in the work of the pioneer American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan who wrote ground-breaking studies on the Iroquois, on kinship systems, and on socio-cultural evolution. Morgan's Ancient Society (1877) was a landmark text in the development of anthropology. Significantly, Engel's seminal study The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) is largely based on Morgan's work and on Marx's own notebooks.

Although Marx is invariably interpreted as a social evolutionist, who, like Morgan and Edward Tylor, viewed human history in terms of rigid unilinear ‘stages’, it is evident, as Patterson contends, that Marx had a much more complex conception of human history, one that implied multilineal ‘pathways’.

Though an exemplary and pioneer anthropologist, Marx continues to be dismissed by contemporary liberal scholars as an intellectual ‘relic’, and held responsible for the authoritarian politics and tyranny of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the Chinese state under Mao Zedong. Both, of course, were forms of state capitalism under a party dictatorship, and far removed from Marx's own embrace of democratic politics and his conception of a communist society. Perhaps, as a last word, we can quote from the pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook, before he became an apologist for the American empire:
‘Marx was a democratic socialist, a secular humanist, and a fighter for human freedom. His words and actions breathe a commitment to a way of life and a critical independence completely at odds with the absolute rule of the one-party dictatorship of the Soviet Union’– or that of any other political dictatorship’.
Marx was also an anthropologist and the advocate of anthropology as a humanistic science.
Brian Morris


Boas, F. (1940) Race, Language and Culture (1982 edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hook, S. (1971) From Hegel to Marx (original 1962). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Marx, K. (1967) Capital. Vol One. Introd : G.D.H. Cole. London: Dent.

Marx, K. (1975) Early Writings. Introd: : L. Colletti. London: Penguin Books .

Marx, K. and F .Engels (1956) The Holy Family (original 1845). London: Lawrence and Wishart

Marx, K. and F. Engels (1965) The German Ideology. London: Lawrence and Wishart

Patterson, T. C. (2009) Karl Marx : Anthropologist. Oxford: Berg.

Who are the Socialist Alliance? (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Yet another set of dishonest politicians will be after your vote at the general election. However, in this case they are calling themselves 'socialist'. But they are anything but.
The Socialist Alliance intends to field up to a hundred candidates in the forthcoming election, specifically targeting disaffected Labour voters who feel 'betrayed' by Tony Blair and may want a 'socialist alternative'.

Rag bag
So who are the Socialist Alliance? They are an eclectic rag bag of Trotskyists, former Stalinists, various other groupings and assorted individuals. The main organisations involved include: Socialist Workers Party, Militant (now calling itself Socialist Party of England and Wales, or SPEW), Alliance for Workers Liberty, Communist Party of Great Britain, International Socialist Organisation and Workers Power. The SA are also supporting the 72 (former-Militant) Scottish Socialist Party candidates. Previously, the SA have stood in the 1998 Euro elections and last year's Greater London Assembly elections, with limited success. The general election will be their most ambitious adventure to date. So, unfortunately, we will undoubtedly be hearing more about them.

In any case, it is interesting to learn how such a disparate collection of former enemies could have come together in the first place. It does not seem so long ago that the AWL were accusing the SWP of 'violent thuggery' against some of their own members (see AWL pamphlet Why the SWP Beats Up Its Socialist Critics), and surely the former Stalinists of the CPGB would have balked at the prospect of talking to Trotskyists, let alone organising with them. But whatever particular ism each of these leftist sects subscribe to, they all represent the left-wing of capitalism's political apparatus, and thus are the enemy of the working class.

Left opens up
But with New Labour's victory in May 1997 and flirtations with Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party notwithstanding, these leftist group's orientation to Labourist policies had to be re-evaluated. Many of these groups have been hoisted with their own petard: telling workers to vote Labour only to scream 'betrayed' when they discovered Blair and Co were anti working class. We didn't vote for this! screamed Socialist Worker. Oh yes you did! is our response.

Subsequently, a rightwards shift into the area vacated by Labour has become the order of the day. Just how far this shift should be and, moreover, the very content of the cynical reform package being offered to the working class has tested the very foundations of the alliance and caused much acrimony among the groups themselves. The SA is very much a marriage of convenience.

Leninist duplicity
All Leninist/Trotskyist organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing 'professional revolutionaries' who will lead workers to the promised land. It's worth pointing out that the Leninists themselves do not want socialism because they do not know what it is. For Leninists and Trotskyists, socialism is what you get when they run the government and nationalise the commanding heights of the economy in a pathetic attempt to centrally plan production. This is not socialism, it is capitalism. Or, more precisely, state capitalism—whether the Leninists consciously realise it or not.

For this end, a minimum—or transitional—programme is adopted. Since workers are unlikely to be turned on to what the Leninists really stand for, a plethora of unworkable reforms is served up for the working class's edification. For instance, here are some of the SA's 'priority pledges' from their website:

  • Tax the rich to pay for the welfare state
  • Raise the minimum wage to £7 an hour
  • Cancel third world debt
  • For the right to work -- 35 hour week now
  • Raise pensions and restore the link with earnings
  • Fully funded comprehensive education and NHS

Commenting upon the SA's 'tax the rich and spend' budget proposals, Dave Nellist, the SA leader, said:
“If you tried to enter our budget into the Treasury computer model of the UK economy, it would reject it. It breaks all the rules.” (SA press release, 4/3/01)
As Nellist admits, the SA's capitalist reform proposals would not work as capitalism is based upon capital accumulation and production for profit. So, Mr Nellist, why the need to lie?

Within the SA, groups such as the SWP, Militant and the AWL have been 'out-lefted' by the likes of the CPGB and WP who argue that the former are 'economistic' and 'centrist'—Leninist speak for lacking revolutionary vision. The others have retorted by accusing the CPGB and WP of 'ultra-leftist posturing'. According to Weekly Worker, the journal of the CPGB, reporting on the recent National Policy Conference of the SA:
“The SWP consciously and openly argued that in order to make a real impact in the election and attract non-revolutionary workers and Labourites, we must not stand on 'too radical' [sic] a platform. The most important thing is to form a pole of attraction one step to the left of New Labour—in effect, the old Labour model is the safest and most viable.”
“Amendments from the CPGB and WP called for opposition to the standing army and police and their replacement by working class militia and 'community self-defence organisation' [sic]. The SWP's Kambiz Boomla strode to the microphone to admonish the left for wanting to 'put off' [sic] people such as 'Sister Christine', a catholic nun who was on the point of being recruited into the alliance in east London.” (Weekly Worker, 15 March)
Yes, this is real revolutionary politics: do we demand a 'workers militia' or will that frighten off the nuns? It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

Even our Leninist friends have been forced to admit that this charade is based upon a tissue of lies. Here's one member of the International Socialist Group:
“Do we want a revolutionary programme or a programme that challenges capitalism and can reach out to significant forces to our right? We 'don't always have to tell the truth' [sic] about our revolutionism.” (Weekly Worker, 15 March)
SWP's about turn
Our old friends in the SWP, which is infamous for changing its line, or 'bending the stick', whenever it suits them, have done exactly this in the case of the SA. For years, the SWP has proclaimed itself as the de facto revolutionary party and denigrated the efforts of other left groups that it is now in partnership with. It has always been fiercely against standing in elections, as such activity was considered tantamount to reformism. This, of course, never prevented them from telling workers to vote Labour at every election or from jumping on every reformist bandwagon in town. Indeed, its 'Where We Stand' column, printed in every issue of Socialist Worker, clearly states:
“There is no parliamentary road. At most parliamentary activity can be used to make propaganda against the present system. Only the mass action of workers themselves can destroy the system.”
“The present system cannot be patched up or reformed as the established labour and trade union leaders say. It has to be overthrown.”
Rest assured that none of the above will appear in bold print in the SA election manifesto. After all, think of the nuns! It is reasonable to assume that the core of the SWP remains the same although its auto-Labourism has been thrown into confusion since the victory of new Labour. In 1998, the SWP produced an action programme of minimalist reformist demands which signalled a rightwards shift. Despite criticisms from the more left-leaning CPGB and WP that the SWP has become too reformist, this has been the logical political trajectory of all the groups comprising the SA.

In particular, the CPGB and the AWL appear to be interested in taking the SA to its logical conclusion—the formation of a new party. Of course, a prerequisite for such a development would be an SA paper, and, as leading CPGB theoretician Jack Conrad has argued:
“such a political paper represents the starting point, the first step towards creating a genuinely socialist party in Britain . . . is the overriding goal to which everything else should be subordinated." (Weekly Worker, 25 January)
However, it is unlikely that the largest organisations in the SA—the SWP and Militant—would ever countenance such a development. As things stand, the alliance project has deeply divided Militant, leaving themselves with one foot in and one foot out with a possible split on the cards. Experience tells us that the SWP would only ever be interested in anything they could completely dominate, and such behaviour has already been implicitly noted in the pages of Weekly Worker.

Our analysis of the SA is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it's based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The SA is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century—from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute for the class struggle.
Dave Flynn

Running Commentary: Take cover (1980)

The Running Commentary column from the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Take cover

Hiroshima and Nagasaki disappeared into the atomic dust just over thirty five years ago so it is clearly time for the government to give some serious thought to protecting the population in the event of a nuclear attack.
One way of doing this would be to build enough shelters for everyone to be able to take cover but that would cost between £60 and £80 billion. While a government will readily spend that sort of money on weapons they are not likely to be so free when it comes to protection from the weapons' effects. Rich people, of course, can always afford to build their own shelters; the rest of must do the best we can with the blanket of official propaganda and advice, which is about all the government are prepared to offer.

The essence of this advice will be to keep faith, the government's airy assumption is that about 15 million people will be left in Britain after the attack (although most of them will be a bit deaf and probably bronzed, as if they had just come back from a holiday near a tropical jet airport) and that will be enough to eventually rebuild towns, roads, factories and so on and in general get the machinery of capitalist exploitation going again.

To ensure this, the government's plans give priority to their survival. There will then be money available for the construction of adequate shelters for our rulers, be there ever so little for them to rule over. Rather lower—in fact at the bottom—of their priorities comes the safety and welfare of the working class. Perhaps there is an unconscious, ironical justice in this; after all, the working class don't have to keep capitalism in existence, don't have to make its weapons, fight its wars . . . 

For the workers, anti-nuclear defence measures have a special meaning. We shall be encouraged to keep our heads wrapped in a jacket or some other substantial garment and to whitewash our windows which, writes Home Secretary Whitelaw, ". . . can provide very effective protection against fire resulting from the heat-flash from nuclear explosions."

This rather unnerving optimism was echoed, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (23/6/80) from a Dr. Kitty Little of Oxford, on whose operating table we must all fervently hope never to find ourselves. Dr. Little offers us the assurance that "The only serious long-term hazard . . . are the stress disease symptoms caused by apprehension and fear." Her advice is to keep "an open tank of water" on the window sill to stop the heat-flash igniting inflammable material.

So when the Bomb comes there will be rather a lot for us to cram into the four minutes. Whitewash the windows, set out tanks of water, select a durable jacket from the wardrobe, prop the table against the wall, with a sandbag or two to secure its base. Anyone who feels any fear or apprehension coming on may take solace from the thought that, beyond their flimsy defences, their ruling class are keeping the flag of privilege flying—as usual giving themselves the best possible chance in life.

Take it out

There are factories in Japan where the workers are able to give vent to their suppressed anger in a place called the Rumpus Room, where they are able to pummel effigies of the managers. But even this clever idea is not enough to divert all frustrations; in the Tokyo tube and suburban commuter trains, female travellers are becoming increasingly angry at the male hands which too often explore their bodies in the rush hour crush.

At peak travelling times, when the workers are hurrying to their places of exploitation, part of the degradation process is the cramming of three times as many people into those trains as they are designed to carry in comfort. There are, in fact, workers whose job it is to pack in the bodies as skilfully—which means as tightly and as profitably—as possible until, in the words of one railway security guard, " . . . you can't lift your hand to scratch your nose."

These journeys are not enlightened by the added insults of the posters which are aimed at encouraging even more discipline from the sardine-like travellers. Don't leave anything behind you; don't sit with your legs wide apart; don't wear clothes like a peacock's plumage; don't let your head flop onto your neighbour's shoulder. All these undisciplined travel habits take up too much room—and more room means more workers packed into the sweating crush.

After a journey like that (the average commuting time in Tokyo is two hours twenty minutes) and a day on the production line or in the office the Rumpus Rooms must have plenty of customers. And beating a lifeless doll must be a lot cheaper than building more comfortable railways.

Japanese workers are often cited as examples of industrial discipline, people whose hard and uncomplaining work reaps rich rewards for their master class. Whatever the truth of this, it is clear that they rank pretty high among the world working class for the intensity of their exploitation—and for the contempt in which they are held by their capitalist employers.

Little wonder that they experience such tensions. But there is a more useful way of taking out their frustrations, than in any Rumpus Room or in annoying their fellow workers.

Take off

Two episodes in the life of Steve Skingle of Plaistow - skinhead, unemployed, Tube traveller extraordinary.

On Easter Monday Steve, like any self-respecting London skinhead, was in Southend getting a bit of aggro. He was arrested and bailed to appear in court at a later date.

Before he went back to court, Steve was involved in the Tube crash at Holborn and, apparently unlike any self-respecting skinhead, helped to rescue the train driver. This made some lovely headlines for the copy-starved hacks in Fleet Street and eventually so impressed the Southend magistrates that they put Steve on probation.

"You could," commented the chairman of the Bench, "be a useful member of society. It is just a matter of bringing it out."

"Lovely," gasped Steve when he was asked what he thought of his sentence, then went back to Plaistow to work at this being a useful member of society.

He got a job as a labourer on a building site. "I'm enjoying it," he beamed. His father (who is out of work) weighed in with the hope that Steve would soon give up being a skinhead and obligingly defined what a useful member of society should be about" " .  .  . I hope that now he has started to find himself he'll get himself new clothes, a bird and a car."

Being a useful member of society means one thing to people who draw the dole in Plaistow and another to people who draw their dividends in Belgravia. Pompous magistrates judge people like Steve Skingle by their degree of conformity; is he "well dressed", in a steady job, looking forward to a lifetime of marriage and mortgage? Is he a toe-the-line wage worker, giving his all in the process of his own exploitation? Is he normal—by which they mean, does he conform?

How long will the working class assent to their inferior social position? How long will they direct their frustrations in the wrong direction? Steve's shaven head was, he hoped, a badge of rebellion, a mindless reaction against something he does not understand but which he does not like. Perhaps, after all the publicity, he will be relieved that he can drop the pose and fall in with the docile role his conditioning demands of him.

This may satisfy insecure parents or pontificating magistrates—both symbols of capitalist authority—but it has little more to offer than a seaside punch-up.