Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Throwaway System (2014)

From the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

How capitalism treats old people is an increasing issue across much of the globe

Compared with other species, a human being requires very long periods of nurture, growth and development. Thus, parenting implies naturally assuming a long responsibility until offspring are able to survive independently. Yet there is no real obligation in the other direction. From a biological point of view, children bear no responsibility for supporting their parents. In an ideal world, children feel and appreciate their parents’ love so they will return it by supporting and taking care of them late in life. Reality, however, can differ from the ideal.

This social contract that formed the bedrock of culture for centuries, built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No need for nursing or care homes for the elderly. But younger generations simply found themselves working harder in the hyper-competitive environment that drives capitalism and their parents are often left behind. Many elderly people now live out their final years poor and lonely, without family support. In Korea the elderly are committing suicide at historic rates: from 1,161 in 2000 to 4,378 in 2010. Capitalism with the sheer cruelty of the market has never been a way to strengthen and buttress the family and accord generational justice and respect. The forces of global capitalism are destroying the kind of society which allows and encourages stability, traditional families, and self-sufficient community. Capitalism destroys the very structure of societies. The safety net was created to save capitalism from itself, not to attack capitalism.

Our profit system makes men and women grow old prematurely. Millions look with dread upon the day when, once they have grown old, they will be discarded. Millions of workers struggle through life in penury and want towards a bleak and barren old age, to finally find rest at last in the council care home or the morgue.

It is not uncommon for health issues to become a factor for older workers. As the years progress, some things just begin to wear out and break down, ranging from knees and hearts to stamina and patience. If the job is physically demanding, we may no longer possess the strength or agility to do what the job requires. Once the boss figures that out, ageing employees find themselves without a job. It is a sad state of affairs when someone survives a career and makes it to retirement only to find they are too beaten and worn down to enjoy their final years.

More and more older workers are finding themselves out of a job because of structural changes. These reorganisations and reductions in staff have little to do with individual performance but with scales of production and cost-cutting. You may be doing a good job but find your job eliminated in a wave of redundancies. Tenure and seniority is a thing of the past in most industries. And if you lose your job after age 50, the job market competition tends to favour younger candidates who are often attractive to growing companies.

Once you are over 50, loss of employment can force a premature retirement. Even after prudent saving, you may find yourself forced to exit paying employment before you achieve your goals for financial security. It is increasingly challenging for those over 50 to return to the workforce. Many companies have a compulsory retirement age that employees must adhere to. When 65 rolls around, it is not a matter of choice but rather a policy that your career comes to an end. Even though you may still be very capable of performing your duties, you won't be welcome to stay on the job.

Old age should be about life being made more pleasant with everything society has to offer. After all, everyone holds onto the hope that he or she will someday enjoy what they now offer to others. The old should not haunted by the thought that others are waiting for them to die in order to come into an inheritance. Nor by the fear that once they are old and helpless they will be thrown aside to vanish from all thought. When socialism is built the elderly will not depend on the charity and the alms of the community.

It must be impressed upon the minds of workers that the living standards of a generation of people at or near retiring age are being sacrificed to increase the proportion of resources going into government investment going to businesses. The problem is that people accept capitalism and its logic and therefore see no alternative. Under capitalism welfare has always been an issue. If capitalism is to be judged by what is done for the least fortunate section of the community – the aged and infirm – it will be judged and found wanting. This world possessed of vast resources should be free from the scourge of poverty. Money dominates our social life and our social practices and that can only produce inhumanity.

As Confucius say – ‘The Master said: ‘If there were an honorable way to get rich, I'd do it, even if it meant being a stooge standing around with a whip. But there isn't an honorable way, so I just do what I like.’

The Death of Comrade Alexander Anderson. (1926)

Obituary from the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with profound regret we have to inform our readers that, after a long and distressing illness, our old comrade, Alexander Anderson, died on September 16th, at the age of 48. He was one of that determined few who in 1904 made history by founding the Socialist Party of Great Britain. During the twenty-two years of our existence his loyalty to the Party and to the working class has been steadfast and unwavering. A born orator, he was never happier than when on the platform, expounding our position, or riddling that of our opponents. Hundreds attended the funeral at Tottenham Cemetery, and a short address was made on behalf of the Party. To those who did not know our comrade, a pen portrait would convey little, and to those who knew him it would be sadly inadequate. It is at intimate, human moments such as these that we realise how much is embraced in the term "Comrade." There is an old and hackneyed saying that in death all men are equal. It is our late comrade's chiefest glory that his life-long efforts were directed towards the achievement by mankind of equality in life. He died a member of the Party he helped to found. We tender to his wife and children the warmest sympathy of the whole Party.

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We print the following letter from Comrade Jacomb as a personal tribute from an old Comrade in the Cause :-

Comrades Editors of the Socialist Standard,—Will you kindly allow me, as one of the "old originals," a little space in which to pay my humble tribute to the memory of our departed comrade, Alexander Anderson?

I have never taken up my pen in greater sadness of heart than I do to write these lines—which, I suppose, is natural in one paying his last respects to an old friend and comrade with whom he has worked for nearly a quarter of a century in such a cause as Socialism.

Those members who have joined the Party during the last few years, and to whom Anderson can hardly be more than a tradition, can have no conception of what he was in the time of his virile strength. In outdoor propaganda work he gave of his best with a lavish freedom which has had tragic results. For years, almost without a break, he addressed several meetings a week. It was no unusual thing for him to be speaking for six or eight hours on a Sunday, and he has at times started to address a meeting before noon and carried on into the small hours of the following day. In debate he was a giant, as many a capitalist henchman discovered to his cost; and in the Party councils he was a force of the first magnitude.

Indeed, it is more for his labour and ability in the internal affairs of the Party that his older comrades will treasure his memory. It was there that his light shone clearest. Particularly does the present scribe recall how, when the Party was new, and strong men were striving to shape it each in accordance with his own conception of what was best, he stood his ground beneath attacks from our opponents of such bitterness as would have overwhelmed most men. He fought back, and stuck it out with a firmness which could only compel admiration.

Anderson was a great fighter, and had the qualities in abundance of a great fighter. He also had the faults of those qualities, and these, naturally enough, did not tend to make what is called in the ordinary way a lovable nature. Therefore it speaks all the more eloquently of his merit and value in the sphere in which he did his life's work that those who were most often opposed to him feel his loss most poignantly.

I am not claiming any martyrdom for Anderson's life. If ever a man was happy in the work he had put his hand to, that man was Anderson. But I do think that it is incumbent upon his comrades, in fairness to his children and to that splendid comrade, his wife, who for so many years buckled on his armour and sent him forth fit to the fight, to acknowledge that, so far as human intelligence can judge, his strenuous struggle for the emancipation of his class was the direct cause of his early breakdown and death. His breakdown was a serious blow to the working class, as his death is an infliction to his comrades.

The Party has lost a great asset, and is poorer therefor. The more reason, then, for redoubled effort, If he could give us a message now, it would be this prosaic one—"Get on with it."

Yes, comrades; in memory of Alexander Anderson, let us get on with it.
A. E. Jacomb

Between the Lines: The "Dream" (1994)

The TV Review Column from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The "Dream"

The early hours of Saturday evening on "The Box" are usually devoted to game shows, sitcoms and old films. Fine Cut (Saturday 21 May, 7.45pm, BBC2) was therefore something of a surprise. It charted through a sometimes confusing mixture of present-day and flash-back film, the progress of an East End family from the time that Richard Harris left Dublin in the 1930s, through five generations to the present.

Such family historians are, of course, not new and though this one ran, as it does with so many, a nostalgia for the "good old days" when there was a sense of community, people felt (however misguidedly) that they could affect the course of events, and everyone had a job (with the usual gloss regarding the grind and abysmal pay).

These programmes are social history in the flesh and as such are always interesting. What distinguished this one were the comments made near the end by the young father and mother of two of the last generation children. They live in a council flat, money is short and work is good when you can get it. When asked about what future he looks forward to, the father says "a world without war, where everyone has work and is equal. Where everyone has enough to eat and luxuries like a television set and a washing machine. There'd be no politicians, but a council of people who are good at this sort of thing would make sure there's enough for everyone and it's distributed properly". His wife says, "Ah yes, that's your dream". He replies "it doesn't have to be a dream". How right he is; the more of us aim and work for it, the sooner we'll get it!

The nightmare

In Life Can Be Wonderful (C4, 6 June, 11.55pm) Stanley Forman described his own dream, in his case a dream that turned sour. Forman was born into a family of Jews who had fled the Tsarist pogroms in Russia early this century and had settled in the Mile End Road, East London. Taking against the Jewish religion at an early age (partly because of its requirement that he should thank God for not having been born a woman), this East Ender took practical steps towards realising his dream by becoming involved in politics. First in the Labour League of Youth and then the Communist Party, Forman pursued his vision of the future where poverty had been banished and equality established through political action.

For much of his political life Forman actively expressed the view that his dream was becoming reality in Soviet Russia. The USSR, he contended, was building heaven on earth, and Stalin was his Pope. Forman spent forty years in the film industry and a large part of his time making propaganda films for the Kremlin's Empire designed to counter the devious work of the CIA.

Some of the films made in defence of the misnamed "Socialist motherland" were laughable—extolling the technological leaps in tractor-making productivity or wheat-growing, all amid the smiling faces of healthy Russian youths going about their daily tasks to please Comrade Stalin. Others, about the private capitalist Western bloc rather than what was in reality the state-capitalist East, were more truthful. One film produced by Forman dealt with poverty in post-war Britain, and from the clips of it that were shown, it looked accurate enough. But the abiding impression was of a man who had spent decades of his life spreading lies.

Forman stated that if he had known what was really going on in Russia—the gulags, the repression, the misery—his life would have been very different from that of a Stalinist propagandist. He claimed that on his frequent visits to the USSR he saw nothing but showpiece collective farms and enthusiastic Communist Party officials. No political prisoners and no forced-labour camps were in evidence—claims about such horrors were the work of the CIA or bloody-minded Trotskyists.

But Forman must have been blinkered indeed to have so easily dismissed the consistent reports of totalitarianism and repression emanating from Russia and its satellites. Many saw through it and left the CP—some braved the slanders of the Communists and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties. Others, disillusioned, drifted out of politics altogether or merely traded one type of repressive politics for another and threw their lot in with the Trotskyist mis-leaders of the working class.

Forman soldiered on through the Hungarian invasion of 1956 and the Prague spring of 1968 like the fool he later realised he'd become. In believing the old untruths, he now states "we had too much faith in the leadership and not enough commonsense". Quite. Forman paid the price of letting others do his thinking for him in the form of a life spent in the service of an unworthy cause. But he and thousands like him still have time yet and do something really constructive with their lives—build a real, democratic socialist revolution, carried out by the majority in the interest of the majority. That way, the lives of all those ex-Communists will not have been wasted entirely.

Some Members (1974)

From the June 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The history of the Socialist Party is of the men and women who have made it. Remarkable as many of them have been, there are no high places or orders of merit. All Socialists are equal, and none is more equal than others. The jokey justification for obituaries in the SOCIALST STANDARD is that this is all anyone gets from the Party. Not true, of course: we get marvelous camaraderie, and loyalty and the job well done are appreciated. Nevertheless, the point is made.

Several thousand people have played their parts over seventy years, and we still have members—several—who joined before the first world war. Inevitably the speakers come to mind first. Anderson and Fitzgerald of the Impossibilist generation, who set their different stamps on the Party, are mentioned elsewhere. There was Neumann, who wore a frock-coat to Paris Commune meetings, translated Kautsky, and composed an awful Party song—in Germany when the 1914 war began, he was killed in the Spartacus Rising. Freddie Watts, wood-carver and designer. And a little later Kohn, full of knowledge and wit, and Moses Baritz, whose terrifying rumbustiousness made incongruous the fact that he was a scholar and broadcaster on music.

They were all rumbustious in argument. Ted Lake recalled in 1954 his first sight of Fitzgerald, pushing through the crowd at a meeting and roaring: "I demand to take the platform and speak in opposition!" R. M. Fox in his autobiography Smokey Crusade described EC meetings about 1910 in the room above the shop in Sandland Street, with late-night passers-by "looking up at the windows and wondering when the disputants in the brawl would come to blows". A few fell out with the Party. One, sadly after thirty-five years, was sincere and kindly Jacomb; and with him Reynolds, who spoke and wrote with abrasive erudition.

But none of them was thought, or claimed to be, a speciality. The best speakers took their turn on the rota like the beginners, doing the bad spots equally with the good ones; the platform has always been the Party's, not individuals'. And members who did unspectacular work in Branches and on dull committees were and are valued as highly as anyone. Percy Hallard, who was a Branch secretary for thirty-eight years; Jack Butler, who was the Party treasurer and had an account-book in his lap and a pencil behind his ear when he was killed in an air-raid shelter; the general secretaries—Freddie Adams, Merrison, Hilda Kohn.

There have been others who toiled away for years in unlikely places and circumstances. Dick Jacobs in Swansea until a Branch was formed there; Jonathan Roe in High Wycombe; Lamond and the amazing Agnes Hollingshead in Edinburgh; Eric Boden in Sheffield; and a good many more. Or the members like old Beck who have spent years going round with Socialist literature and selling it at street-corners in all weathers, and those who were always there to carry the platform.

We have never lacked such members. Ever since Great Dover Street there has always been tea and something to eat at the Party office (Conferences as well) because we have had bricks of people who would forgo the excitement to make that their job: Nellie Butler, Mark Miller, Helen Rose, Joe Bell. In that connection, the Socialist Party has never been a "man's world". Women have been EC members, speakers and delegates, without any of us finding implications in it. (Others do, of course. A local paper once wrote up one of our platform people as a "raven-haired, barb-tongued beauty"; we thought she was simply an able speaker.) One of our saddest losses was Lisa Bryan's early death in 1960.

There have been members whom no-one who kew them could ever forget. Charles Lestor—he looked like the redskin chief of a schoolboy's dream, and breathed adventure in tales of Jack London and the Yukon. Clifford Groves of the autocratic manner, flaying opponents in debate. Alf Jacobs, who spoke Sunday in Victoria Park for almost a lifetime. McLaughlin, full of enthusiasm when he was blind and deaf.

Writers are relatively obscure though their work is the most lasting, their initials and pen-names often a mystery. "F.F." stood for years of lucid, well-informed articles in the STANDARD; not so many know today that it stood also for Fred Foan. Some of the most delightful writing which ever appeared was the penetrative, gently witty pieces by "W.T.H.", the initials of Hopley. We have with us today two whose work spans longer than most of us have lived. Comrades McClatchie ("Gilmac") and Hardy ("H") have written for the SOCIALIST STANDARD since, respectively, just before and just after the 1914-18 war and edited it for forty and thirty-plus years.

Last year a still-active member was eighty, and a bunch of comrades went round to her with a birthday cake and a lot of good wishes. She said that though she hadn't seen the establishment of Socialism, working for it had given her a lifetime among the best people imaginable. Even when we are disagreeing with one another, that is what we all think.
Robert Barltrop