Monday, July 13, 2015

News In Review: The Space Race (1961)

The  News in Review from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Man in Space

Russia's daring young man did all the right things, at the right time.

Sent looping round the Earth, he sang a patriotic song: ("The motherland hears, the motherland sees, the motherland knows . . . ") On the rostrum beside Mr. Khruschev, he was the star turn at this year's Moscow May Day parade.

Gagarin's exploit, Commander Shepard's flight, and the arrival of the Russian Venus rocket shot, have put spaceships right back in the news. Such things are interesting, not to say exciting—but have they been worth anything?

We all know that Russia and the United States are feverishly applying the knowledge which their space probes give them to the production of more accurate missiles. Some of these were paraded before Gagarin in the Red Square on May.

Without a doubt, the quest for more accurate and more powerful weapons is the main incentive in the space programmes of the great powers.

Incidentally, they may also gain knowledge which has little or no military value. But there is no guarantee that even this will not one day be misused.

There is one thing the space shots have to teach everybody. Capitalist society is bound to distort human knowledge for inhuman ends. Scientific investigation can only come into its own when this world is sanely organised.

Golden Boys

80,000 pounds is an awful lot of money.

We may think that the Milan Football Club, who paid that amount to Chelsea for Jimmy Greaves have a millionaire somewhere behind them.

They have. So have Juventus, Naples and other Italian clubs. This is why they can afford such enormous wage bills, and can offer irresistible financial bait to British footballers.

Greaves put it in record that he did not want to leave England, but Milan were offering him such a high signing-on fee that he really had no choice in the matter.

Helpless, the English fans moan as their golden boys take off for sunnier lands. They blame the clubs, the Football League, the Italians, for being a lot of poachers.

But the millions who weekly cheer their favourite club, support, almost to a man, the social system in which whoever pays the most money takes the best choice. They can hardly complain when that principle is extended to football.

Because, whatever the match programme may say, football is not a sport. When we hear it discussed in terms of transfer fees, gate money and the rest, we know that it is as much a business as any gas works or marmalade factory.

Cuban Failure

Whatever happened to that nice, level-headed young man Mr. Kennedy?

When he was campaigning for the United States Presidency he seemed so calm, so cool tempered. He sounded so peaceable. Lots of Republicans, in fact, thought that he might want to be too soft on the Russians.

The invasion of Cuba changed all that.

President Kennedy inherited the plans for the landing which the Eisenhower administration had laid. He chose to go ahead with them—and when the invasion failed, with typical acumen, he pointed out that his predecessor must take part of the blame.

This is the sort of ruthlessness and cynicism which we have come to expect from capitalism's leaders. And we have grown familiar with the assurances, as they are climbing to power, that they are anything but ruthless and cynical men.

Each time, the working class fall for it. Kennedy promised an era of sanity and calm judgement in foreign policy. In their millions, American workers voted for him.

Will they profit from the lessons of reality? Probably not. The signs are that Kennedy will be reviled not so much for agreeing to the Cuban expedition, as for the fact that the whole thing was a flop.

Ignorantly patriotic, the working class will forgive almost anything but that.

Stags Rampant

How did the strait-laced City Editors of Fleet Street come to be making jokes about Lady Chatterley?
Penguin Books recently announced a record profit, for which the trial—and the sales—of Lady C. can take much of the credit. At the same time, Penguin offered £450,000 worth of shares to the public, the more prosperous of whom applied for them to the tune of £67 million.

Now a lot of the people who tried to get Penguin shares are known, in Stock Exchange jargon, as stages. Hence the little jokes about gamekeepers, and Lady C. in the City columns.

The stags have been rampant lately, in shares other than the Penguin issue. They specialise in going for shares which can be easily applied for—sometimes by completing a newspaper coupon—and which are likely to rise quickly on the Stock Exchange. Some of them apply many times over for the same shares.

The snag is that the stags often pay up with bouncy cheques. The idea is to sell the shares at a profit before the cheques have had time to be cashed.

This is the sort of speculative boom which preceded the 1929 crash. Many sage economists have since told us that it aggravated matters in 1929—and that it could never happen again.

But whoever heard of investors refusing the chance of a profit? The stags have shown that capitalism is the same old animal as it ever was.

Venal system under scrutiny (1997)

Theatre Review from the January 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, National Theatre.

In the best television, cinema and theatre we can often observe people living out their lives in contemporary capitalist society, and sometimes we can learn lessons, vicariously, from their experiences. Nowhere can we see the process at work better than in the great plays of Arthur Miller, of which Death of a Salesman is perhaps the peerless classic.

Willy Loman is a salesman possessed of "the American Dream'. While some of the early settlers may well have had a heroic vision of a free and just society, "the American Dream" has, for most citizens, become a tarnished nightmare. But Willy is still a subscriber. Intent on becoming "number one", his vision infects not only his relations with his clients but also those with his family and friends, perhaps especially his two sons. The two acts of Death of a Salesman chart his fall and register its impact on those around him.

There is not a single explicit reference to capitalism in the play but everywhere the venal system is under scrutiny, and its dehumanising impact registered. Miller recalls in his autobiography Timebends that at the first night in 1949 an outraged woman called it "a time bomb under capitalism". And Miller adds, "I hope it was, or at least under the bullshit of capitalism, this pseudo life that thought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last."

The play's greatness lies in its ability to present us with real people with whom we can identify, not to say emphasise. Willy's collapse envelops others in its wake, and we are all engulfed in the tragedy. Capitalism has claimed yet more victims.

There are some memorable lines—lines which bear witness both to the viciousness of contemporary capitalism and the triumphant ability of humanitarian feelings to survive and flourish, come what may. Willy's friend, Charley, remarks icily, "All you've got is what you can sell", and yet it is the self-same Charley who gives Willy money each week and observes on another occasion, "No man just wants a small salary on which to survive", the implication being that money is a counterfeit coinage for things that really matter.

The present production at the National is excellent. It is difficult to imagine anything better. At the end I cheered through my tears.
Michael Gill  

Proceeds to charity (1974)

Film Review from the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent in South Africa has sent us this account of the screening of a film based on life there.

"Gold" has well-known actors in the leading parts, and several hundred Africans — of whom two are named in the printed programme. This film, recently screened in Johannesburg, was made in and around this city and London. It was produced with the co-operation of a major South African gold-mining corporation, so it would be safe to assume that it does not misrepresent the gold mining industry — adversely, at least. 

The plot revolves round (apart from the cuckolding of the villain by the hero) the machinations of an international syndicate of investors led by the grandson-in-law of and heir to the good-natured, scrupulously honest, uninvolved big boss of the Mining House. Their aim is to flood the mine secretly (with the loss perhaps of a hundred or so miners' lives — "but then there's a price on everything") in order to cause a sudden rise in the price of gold and a drop in the share prices for this particular mine. With their foreknowledge of the event they hope to make a "killing" on the Stock Exchanges of the world.

Near the beginning of the film a "normal" mine disaster occurs with the usual fatalities and injuries among the miners, of course, though this time the underground mine manager is also killed. At a ceremony in an open-air stadium, to signify the company's appreciation of the sacrifices of the miners, a black hero is presented with a "gold" helmet and the widow of another African miner is awarded a pension for life of R120 — about £80 — per annum. (The pension of the mine manager's widow is not mentioned.)

I noticed that the sleek preview audience made no audible response; maybe they were asleep. Later, I looked at my seat-ticket (a complimentary one, I hasten to add!) and saw that the price stamped on it was R20, about £13.50; and it was not for one of the best seats by any means. This "Gala Première" was in aid of charity — oddly, not for silicosis or other mining diseases but for teaching aids for dyslexic pupils. Either way, the need for charity from the wealthy springs from the very social system which maintains them in economic supremacy.

Scenes of magnificent homes with high living and conspicuous consumption for the mine-owning minority and their scenic playgrounds in the bush-covered mountains alternate with shots of working conditions underground — though we are not shown the barrack-life living conditions for black miners in the mine compounds.

I can recommend the film for its scenes of how some of the rich live in South Africa and for shots of (typical ?) underground working conditions here. Also, for those interested, some fine aerial views of the Highveld bush and mountain scenery in the Transvaal. Mainly, however, one sees how false issues — a "moral conflict" — are made from different evaluations of human beings in the search for gold and profits.
Alec Hart

Mattick V. Marcuse (1972)

Book Review from the November 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critique of Marcuse by Paul Mattick. Merlin Press. £1.

This short—and expensive—booklet is a criticism of Marcuse's assumption, in his One-Dimensional Man and other writings, that nowadays the capitalist class is able to manage the capitalist economy so as to avoid big slumps and at the same time to gradually increase working class living standards. Mattick repeats the arguments of his Marx and Keynes (reviewed in The Western Socialist, No. 2 1972) to the effect the government intervention can only temporarily postpone the crisis of capitalism.

On the political side, Mattick speaks of the working class as having ceased to be revolutionary; but when have the mass of workers ever consciously wanted Socialism as opposed to being merely greatly discontented with capitalism (as they were just after the first world war)? And he mistakenly restricts the working class to industrial workers only; other kinds of wage-worker, apparently, are to play only a secondary and subordinate role in the socialist revolution.

Nevertheless Mattick knows what Socialism is (a world, moneyless, Stateless society) and is one of the few besides ourselves who realises that free access is now technologically possible. He writes here:
Under conditions of abundance, such as characterise the industrially-advanced society, distribution could be free of all value considerations . . .
This places him well in advance of others in his political tendency, who have not yet abandoned the outdated suggestion for labour-time vouchers Marx mentioned nearly a hundred years ago. But then he has had the advantage of meeting our comrades of the World Socialist Party of the United States.
Adam Buick

To a Patriot. (1915)

From the October 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard


Who told the writer "Socialists won't fight because they are cowards."
Not that we fear to die, for why should we,
Who face a living death from day to day.
Fear what we know "eternal rest" to be—
A speedy end rather than slow decay?
No, what we fear is that we should be brought
To suffer wounds, disease and lingering pain
In aiding those of brute-like cunning wrought,
Who maim the body, crush and starve the brain.
Maybe the time is nearer than we know
When we the disinherited, the spurned,
Shall face our masters in the last great fight;
Shall wade through waste and desolating woe
Toward the splendour of a death well earned
If only life be won in death's despite.
F. J. Webb

Are we armchair socialists? (1966)

From the September 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The charge is one of indifference, of detachment, of sectarianism. of refusing to join the blood-and-earth struggles for the betterment, the dignity and the survival of the human race. It is, in other words, a charge of being talkers, theorists—armchair Socialists.

We plead not guilty.

We have only one witness to call and that is History, whether it is the history of our early days or of more recent times.

During our sixty-odd years of life, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has seen two World Wars and many other periods when politics was a violent business. At such times, if we had truly been armchair theorists, we could have packed up our platforms, forgotten all had we ever said about capitalism and Socialism and quietly slunk away.

In fact, we intensified our activity. In wartime we stood out against the official propaganda. We exposed the lies which were being used to persuade British workers to take arms against their brothers abroad. Our members went to gaol rather than join in the slaughter. More than once our speakers were assaulted, our meetings broken up. In London's Hyde Park, during the Second World War, we spoke out for Socialism with anti-aircraft guns banging away across the grass; often ours was the only meeting there at such times.

In fact, whatever restriction—official or unofficial—we have met we have persisted in our propaganda and our attitude has never wavered. This can hardly be described as politics from the armchair; there were no soft seats in Wormwood Scrubs, nor in the Serpentine.

If there is any excitement in the politics of the power-hungry parties, then we have none of it. There are no throngs, no massive marches for us. If we ever came out on to a balcony the only living things to mark our presence there would be the pigeons. As far as excitement and glamour of that sort is concerned, we live a politically abstemious life.

In case anyone is looking for it, there is a massive compensation for this. The politicians who feed on glamour and public acclaim may find it an agreeable diet, but there is a bill to pay for it: they must have a hard time convincing themselves that their theories are in any way relevant to modern society. Perhaps there is glamour in appearing at the door of Number Ten to announce that your policy is in ruins. Perhaps there is excitement in getting up in the House and promoting something which is in direct contradiction to what you have always said you stood for. This may suit some all-too-famous temperaments. But even they must wonder, in the wee small hours, at the meaning of self-respect.

This is a problem which Socialists do not have. We have never had to go back on our policy, we have never had to betray our principles, we have never had to compromise. Our analysis of capitalism remains valid. The capitalist social system still produces a mass of terrible problems; human beings still suffer, are still deprived, suppressed, degraded and killed—because of capitalism. And the solution to it all is, still, the setting up of a Socialist commonwealth.

To this, to say it, to read it or hear it, may not quicken the heart beat. But the facts, the facts of History and the evidence of the world we live, say that it is correct and in that there is more satisfaction—more inspiration even—than all the mass rallies and the demonstrations of the vote-catching political parties.

Perhaps this seems smug. There are many protest movements which have no formal connection with the big parties. although in fact most of them in the end come down to an attempt at influencing the policies of one of the two parties which are likely to get into power. We have no part in these protests. Although we refused to fight in the 1914/18 War, we did not join the demonstrations against the war. (Apart from anything else, we knew that many of the demonstrators would soon be enthusiastically rolling on their puttees. And in 1939 the political descendants of those 1914 demonstrators were gathering again in Trafalgar Square—but this time they were in favour of war.)

We did not join the Hunger Marchers, nor the anti-fascists, nor the CND, nor the Freedom From Hunger demonstrators. Of course, we have left out a lot of other protests which are, or have been, popular—Second Front Now, Movement For Colonial Freedom, Victory for the Vietcong. If we brought them into the argument we might be facing another charge; of selecting our evidence.

Why didn't we join? First, we must be clear that we do not stand aloof from lack of sympathy with the motives which may lurk somewhere in the depths of the protests. We, too, are affected by capitalism, and we do not like it. Our members were out of work and hungry in the Thirties. We didn't relish the prospect of a dictatorship. The Bomb would wipe us out along with the rest. We are moved and indignant when we see photographs of starving children.

We don't join for the simple reason that the demonstrations are a waste of time. The first thing which is clear is that, after decades of protest about the effects of capitalism, the system goes on throwing up the very problems which the protest industry exists on. In all this time, a few problems may have been suppressed—although the demonstrators would have a hard job to prove that they were responsible for this—but in their place more have appeared.

Anti-Fascist protests have not made democracy any more secure—especially as many of the protesters were themselves anything but democrats. Pacifist marches have not removed war. After some ten years of CND, nuclear weapons are spreading all over the world and in this country the government of which unilateralists once had such high hopes has cooly gone back on all it ever said about abandoning the independent British Bomb.

Hunger, disease, poverty, fear, crime—capitalism, which can produce scarcity in the essentials of life, has them all in abundance. The demonstrators have marched and shouted, scuffled with the police, shown up in court and paid their fines. The things they protested about are still there, waiting for the next outburst. These problems have seen off many generations of protesters, some of whom have grown old and become part of the Establishment against which the protests break their fists.

It is impossible to separate the problems of capitalism from the system itself. Capitalism cannot exist without war. It cannot function unless the mass of its people are condemned to live in poverty. It is a system without a system—an anarchic society which will not be planned or controlled. It inexorably produces glaring anomalies and contradictions. It has millions of people starving while it destroys the food which would keep them alive. It wastes a huge part of its knowledge and resources on destruction, while it admits that it desperately needs to create and construct. It condemns its people to compete against each other when they need, and long, to co-operate.

The only effective protest against the effects of capitalism is to protest against the system itself. How to do this? What keeps capitalism there? The fact is that capitalism's people themselves keep the system in existence. Although they may hate and fear what it does to their lives, they give it their unwavering support. When they think about it, they decide that capitalism is the best of all possible societies; they work for it year in and year out and every so often, when called upon to do so, they give capitalism's political figure-heads another lease of power to continue running society in the interests of a small minority of parasites.

There is only one way in which this can be changed. To strike at the ideas which keep capitalism in existence is to strike at its heart. But we cannot strike at those ideas by suggesting that capitalism can be altered so that it need not produce the problems which are in fact inherent in it. We do not, for example, strike at them by complaining about nuclear weapons while we support a political party standing for the social system which has bred those weapons. We do not, in other words, strike at capitalism's heart by compromising and by confusing the issue.

For the issue is plain. We can have capitalism, with its problems and its never-ending parade of protests. Or we can build a new society in which men stand equally about the world's wealth—a society of freedom and dignity. We can have capitalism or Socialism.

But we won't have Socialism by urging people to keep up their support for capitalism. We won't have it by protesting that capitalism can be tamed by the right reforms, or by the right leaders, or by the right sort of demonstration. All of these have been tried and in the end it has been capitalism which has done the taming.

It is because the demonstrators are confused and contradictory that Socialists will not join them. This does not remove us from the struggle; we are committed to attack capitalism at its roots—to attack the ideas which feed and nurture the system. We stand—and we protest and we demonstrate—for the new, better, saner world.

And we who are called Armchair Socialists will not rest until we have got it.