Thursday, March 5, 2015

What To Do With Your Vote. (1929)

From the April 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a few short weeks you will again be invited to attend at various schoolrooms and public buildings labelled: "Polling Booth," and there inscribe against the name of some individual or other a little cross. Quite a simple little process, and one which, in our dull world, becomes every now and then invested with an air of excitement and festivity. Some of you will be voting for the first time in your lives, most will have voted at several previous elections. The great majority will feel that the occasion is such a rare one, and the excitement so general, they must, if only from a sense of duty, affix their little cross upon the ballot paper. There will be no lack of advisers. The hoardings will groan beneath ten-feet posters calling your attention to the enormous achievements of the party whose power is expiring, and, in contrast, to the millennium about to dawn if you vote for the other side this time. Each side—so called—will call your attention to the shocking lies now being disseminated by the other. Each will tell you that a vote for the other is a vote for catastrophe. Little windows in shabby streets will break out in a rash of cards, begging the passer-by to "Vote for Spoofem," or some other. Halls and schoolrooms will be hired, street corners and market places annexed, whereat hoarse and fervent orators will pour forth tales of their opponents' rascality and the stained-glass, saintly purity of themselves. The newspapers and the Press generally will join in the national fever, and if report be true, the ether will be exploited by means of the radio. Leather-lunged loud-speakers are to squawk their message from touring vans, and altogether we are in for a hell of a time.

In the face of all this racket and excitement, to ask you to make no use of your vote seems rather feeble, doesn't it? In point of fact, we do not ASK you to do anything. When you try and quietly figure it all out, the feebleness lies in a rather different direction.

In the first place, why all this pother, why this hectic atmosphere, why these repeated emphatic appeals for your vote? Very briefly, it is because they want to GOVERN you. There is a tremendous emphasis on that word "govern." Familiarity has dulled appreciation of its essential meaning to most people, but it is worth pausing just there, and saying the word "govern" over and over again to yourself until it takes on a little flavour if strangeness, and you try and realise what government means. Time was when people were not asked to vote for government. They got it, hard and heavy, and they knew it. And when it hurt too much, rebellion was born, and riot, insurrection and discontent. Now, after generations of struggle, you have gained the right of being asked whom you wish to govern you. But notice, in particular, you are still to be governed. Even the Labour Party promises you a Labour Government. Now, if you still retain enough of the flavour of strangeness about that common word, government, you should ask yourself, "Who are the governors, pray, and who are the governed?" and "Why Government at all?" A critical survey of the world around you should supply you with the answer. The governors are the rich, those who hold the keys to our means of life. The governed are the poor, those who have to hire themselves for wages to the rich and powerful. The rich govern the poor, that is, they keep you in order and stamp upon any sign of revolt or discontent, and by long experience they have found that the way of retaining their power to govern you is by getting your assent to its continuance. So they arrange themselves into two or three groups, whose opinions differ upon trifling administrative details, and represent themselves to you as dire and bitter antagonists and ask you to choose or the other for master. Now, in theory, this is a dangerous proceeding, for you might see through the trick and say "A plague on all your houses." In practice, it has worked out very satisfactorily for the rich, for as they own the Press, the Pulpit, the Schools, the Broadcasting service, and your means of livelihood, any alternative opinion is heavily handicapped. But in spite of all, no monopoly can be complete, or eternal. The little sheet you are now reading is a proof of that.

The system in which a small rich class own the means whereby all live, and a large class have to hire themselves for wages in order to live, is called Capitalism. It is the system in which we are living to-day. The Socialist Party of Great Britain suggests as an alternative that the means of living should be taken away from the small parasitic class at present owning them, and commonly owned and administered by the whole people. That alternative is called Socialism. You will be asked some day to vote for the one or the other. That question will not be asked of you at the next General Election. What you will be asked is: "Do you still want to be governed; do you still believe in Capitalism? If you do, it will not matter to Capitalism whether you put your little cross against the Conservative, the Liberal, or the Labour candidate. They will have secured your voluntary assent to the continuance of Capitalism, and your willing acceptance of the fact of being governed. That is all that matters to them. If, where a Socialist candidate is not running, you write the word "Socialism" across your ballot paper, your vote is spoiled. True, but at any rate you have not signified that you are a willing supporter of Capitalism. The best thing, of course, is to join the Socialist Party and see that at the next General Election there is no need to spoil any ballot paper.
W. T. Hopley 

Cooking the Books: This ‘Anti-business’ Business (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s quite amusing really. The Labour Party has long since given up any opposition to capitalism and its profit-making and merely offers itself as an alternative manager of the capitalist state and economy in Britain.

Yet some capitalists and their mouthpieces in the media don’t believe them – or feign not to – and accuse Labour of being ‘anti-business’. Labour politicians protest. And grovel, the worst example to date being the historian Tristram Hunt, their spokesperson on education, who wrote a rather disparaging biography of Engels. Under the headline ‘We’re furiously pro-business, Labour MP tells private sector’, the Times (9 February) reported him as saying.
‘I’m enormously enthusiastic about businessmen and women making money, delivering shareholder return, about making profit’ (Times, 9 January).
There is a certain logic in this position. If you accept capitalism and that productive activity under it is driven by the need for firms to make a profit, then you have to accept that they should, and not do anything that might discourage or endanger this. Otherwise you will provoke an economic downturn.

Writing on this issue in the Times (5 February) their financial editor, Patrick Hosking, claimed:
‘It has taken decades to establish an enterprise culture in Britain. There are now only small pockets in Britain that refuse to acknowledge that profits are a good thing.’
This may well be the case since most people, unfortunately, think there is no practicable alternative to capitalism and understand that if you have capitalism you have to have profits, otherwise the system won’t work. The opposite is true as well of course. If you are against profits you should be against capitalism. Not like some reformists who shout ‘tax the rich and their profits’ and then expect the capitalist system to function normally.

Not that anything Labour is saying or proposing to do is anti-business or anti-profit. Miliband might have been unable to disguise his boredom when meeting capitalists but the most Labour has done is to criticise and say that they will put a stop to the practices that some capitalists and capitalist firms have engaged in to boost their profits such as tax-dodging, customer-cheating, supplier-bullying and market-rigging. This is to go no further than Ted Heath, when as Tory Prime Minister in 1973 he labelled one action of the businessman Tiny Rowland as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’.

Which of course is not a criticism of capitalism as such but merely of the way some capitalists behave, a criticism that can be shared by other capitalists such as that of tax-dodging capitalist firms by other firms which don’t have the chance to do this and so have to pay more tax. Though Hunt, with his enthusiasm for profits not just as the driving force of the capitalist economy but also as ‘delivering shareholder return,’ can’t logically complain about this because the various sharp practices that capitalist firms engage in do increase ‘shareholder return’, at least in the short run,  and are engaged in precisely to do this.

That the Labour Party is in any way anti-capitalist, anti-business or anti-profit is a joke as the capitalists who are raising this spectre must know full well.  Labour has thoroughly absorbed enterprise culture.

Focus on Anti-Semitism (1959)

Book Review from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Focus, by Arthur Miller (Ace Books, 2s. 6d.), is that brilliant playwright's first and only essay in the novel form. As with all his work, it is an impassioned tirade against a social evil—in this case, race prejudice.

Although the novel is ostensibly concerned with anti-semitism, the moral is clearly intended to apply to all forms of racial intolerance, as where the victim of anti-semitic bullying refuses to help a Puerto Rican woman who screams for help in the night. "She could take care of herself because she was used to this sort of treatment Puerto Ricans were, he knew."

Its principal character is Lawrence Newman, a less-than-ordinary middle-aged American who looks like a Jew, though he isn't one, and is ill-treated for it. Weak, conventional and wife-ridden, he has, however, a tiny spark of dignity and character; the story is of the development of this spark.

It leads from Newman's own persecution, to his talks with the victimized Jewish shopkeeper, down to the time when he finds himself side by side with Jews, fighting off thugs who are intent on beating them up. At this moment he throws off his fears and prejudices; he is able to ignore his wife's pleas to knuckle under, and at least to recognise his kinship with his fellow humans, Jew and gentile, black and white.

The story is told in a compelling and convincing manner, and although one feels the burning indignation of the Jew writing about the wrongs suffered by Jewry, the style never lapses into crudity, over-statement, or tub-thumping. The reader, too, feels indignation building up within him as Newman is subjected to one cruel indignity after another.

If this is an accurate picture of anti-semitism in American, and there is no reason to doubt that it is, then we have a long way to go before society finally eradicates the festering sores of race-hatred, along with its other problems.

Miller vividly portrays the poverty of thought and lack of understanding of those who would blame their poverty and drab lives on a racial minority, and seek to defend their "way of life" by anti-social acts. He clearly indicates that it is not they who are to blame, but rather the nature of the society which throws up these antagonisms and produces the racketeers and demagogues who foster race hatred to serve their own ends. This is not to say that Miller appreciates the revolutionary nature of the social change required to solve this problem, along with all other social problems.

Nevertheless, it is refreshing to find, among the flood of paper-backed detective stories, travelogues and war adventures, a book of this kind which deals in a serious way with a serious problem, and at the same time provides an absorbing story of real people in a situation which we can recognise as being true.
Albert Ivimey