Wednesday, August 5, 2015

McCarthyism (1954)

From the October 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Comrades of the World Socialist Party of the United States received an inquiry from a group of Liberals in London about McCarthyism. The following is an extract from the reply which will be of interest to readers of the S.S.

Dear Sir:

The National Administrative Committee at its latest meeting noted your communication of July 14th, and has designated me to furnish a reply.

First off, it must be difficult for European workers to understand the persecution and prosecution in the United States of not only the Communist Party, but also of those whose only crime was to participate in Communist Party "front" organizations.

Of course, as Marxists, we do not employ the term Left and Right to describe political parties, but use the terms Socialist, non-Socialist and Capitalist, even though in popular parlance the former may slip out.

We know that in European countries the Communist Party members have occupied, and continue to occupy, seats in the government, especially in Italy and France. Even in England two Communist Party members at one time were Members of Parliament. Communist Party members are employed in government services, although we understand that in England they are restricted in their work.

In answer to your first point, it is absolutely true that an American citizen us in jeopardy of his job if he has one time or another joined the Communist Party. This has been extended from governmental services, through union offices, through the universities and schools, down to the shops themselves, where a group of five or six alleged Communist Party members were thrown out of the Buick plant in Flint, and the union involved (United Auto Workers—CIO) made only a token and unsuccessful gesture in their defence.

During the 1930's many young men and women joined the Communist Party out of sheer desperation because of the tremendous unemployment, especially among the intellectuals who were pushed on to public works at low wages. After the "recovery" owing to the Second World War, these same people obtain positions in the government, in the unions, in the universities and lower grade schools. Many had dropped out of the Communist Party after a few months, and some had not even obtained membership cards, but now their past is being excavated, and they are being removed from their posts.

Guilt by association, as well as actual membership in the C.P., has been a device utilized to prosecute professors, government workers, among others. If one had associated in the past with well known members of the Communist Party, or if one were unfortunate enough to marry a member, even though he were not a member himself, he would be subject to losing his employment.

This prosecution has extended to membership in "front" organizations, which many innocent, and not-so-innocent citizens joined under the assumption they were aiding Spanish refugees, the foreign-born, etc., whereas in reality these organizations were used as "feeders"—ideological and financial—into the Communist Party.

Where union officials have co-operated or worked together with known Communist Party members, they too have lost their positions, either by the unfavourable propaganda resulting in their defeats in election, or their outright removal by top leaders of the union.

The Progressive Party has been characterized by the government as a Communist Party front because of its support of the Soviet Union, condemnation of American Imperialism, etc., and those in this organization have been declared suspect. However, to date we cannot recall offhand any being deprived of their positions by virtue of membership in this group.

Beyond this we will not go. To state that membership in such a group as the Americans for Democratic Action, a dissident group in the Democratic Party (we will not use the term "left") or to other such "Liberals" would result in loss of one's job would be incorrect. However, this has not stopped McCarthy and the rest of his ilk from throwing charges of "Socialist" and "Communist" at these people. As a matter of fact, such groups as the ADA are trying to out anti-communist McCarthy, and the debate goes on as to which group is fighting "Communism" the hardest.

No, this campaign against intellectual freedom has not been exaggerated in the European Press, but to present the evidence of this would take several books. Those who have lived in Europe all their lives are amazed at the crusade against freedom of speech in the United States. They even have a new term, "controversial figure." That is, even if one has a clear record in the past, if someone on the school board or even a parent is in doubt as to this person's loyalty and can cause dissension over it, then this teacher or superintendent is a "controversial figure," and is forthwith removed.

The most lamentable and ludicrous of all are the prosecutions against those who use the first (freedom of speech) and fifth (prohibition against testifying against one's self) amendment of the American Constitution. Although I cannot prove my statement, it is my belief that many professors are going down to defeat—losing their jobs—merely because they refuse to testify against others, or be what we call "stool-pigeons" and not because of membership in the Communist Party. Under the law, as soon as one begins to testify, then he must answer every question or suffer contempt of court proceedings, which land him in jail. Rather than take a chance on being forced to give damaging testimony against another associate, these professors have refused to testify at all, have been suspended and ultimately discharged from their posts, or have even gone to the penitentiary for contempt of court. To be sure, many who have been members of the Communist Party have invoked the two amendments as well.

The proceedings before Senate investigating committees are properly called "star chamber proceedings." The individuals can do nothing but answer questions, and be confronted by witnesses whom they cannot question in rebuttal. As soon as the accused individual attempts to read a statement the Senators do not like, he is evicted from the hearing, and if the individual is foolish enough to persist in his freedom of speech, then he is charged with contempt of court, which can result in six months in prison for each contempt. Phillip Wylie, an outstanding American writer and by no means a Socialist, recently stated the matter correctly when he said that intellectual freedom has been destroyed in the United States, and that the only freedom which remains to political, that is, the right to vote.

Even this is being taken away tout de suite, as a bill is now in Congress to deprive the Communist Party of legal status, so that anyone will not be able to vote for the Communist Party candidates, even if he foolishly wished to do so. It goes faster. To get on the ballot here in Michigan, for example, the party must receive a certain percentage of the vote. Failure to do so requires this party to take up petitions and to obtain a specific number of names of registered voters before it can be placed on the ballot. But here is the rub. The subversive squad of the State Police took these lists circulated by the Communists, Trotskyists, Socialist Labor Party, and have placed every signer of the petitions under suspect, subject to later investigation.

I would like to go into this deeper, because above we have presented only surface manifestations. Why, for example, can McCarthy get away with his Hitler-like tactics of the "big lie," the "constant repetition," the insinuations, etc.? Why does Eisenhower skirt around McCarthy on many occasions, and why is the committee now set up to investigate McCarthy  going to delay its report until sometime in January, after the November elections for Congress.

Whether we like it or not, McCarthy has a lot of support, not only among the Texas millionaires, and many other capitalists, but even from rank and file workers. Of course, the Catholic Church has its hand in this Red hunt, in spite of public pronouncements against persecution of free thought, etc., etc., ad nauseam. One would be surprised to go among the workers and see how many applaud McCarthy's efforts. In his home state of Wisconsin, McCarthy won with the votes of the heavily industrialized areas. Thus Republicans and Democrats alike seeking office are rather slow in doing anything against McCarthy, although they condemn him demagogically for public consumption. As an aside, it should be pointed out that McCarthy has a little black book (forbid that word "red"!) in which it is stated what Congressman had what woman in what hotel, etc., etc., ad hominen, plus all the scandals of their past life. McCarthy even now is digging up one on Senator Fullbright, his opponent.

Thus, McCarthy has support from one quarter or another. It may not be a majority support, but it is nevertheless a minority with which to reckon.

An even deeper question poses itself, and on this we would like to spend a bit of your reading time. The United States has not only supposedly, but actually, the strongest economy in the world, that is, in terms of industrial output, productivity, and so forth. European countries, on the other hand, are weaker in their economies, and depend on the American dollar in many ways to buttress their ships of state. Would it not be logical, then, to suppose that political and intellectual freedom would be greater in a stronger economy which has nothing to fear from its critics, and less in a weak economy? After all, when one has lots on money in his pockets, he can afford to be generous. Take the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and all the rest of the political parties "of the working class," and their total membership would not be over 400,000, so that their sympathetic following would not be half a million. None of these parties have a representative in Congress, and as far as we know not even a member in the state legislatures, although the Social Democrats may have a city councilman or Mayor here or there.

This seeming contradiction in American capitalism prosecuting minority groups is explained by the economics of the situation. The American economy may appear strong from the outside looking in, but internally it is very weak, in that much of the "prosperity" is based on probabilities, on the hot and cold war situation, etc. All one hears over here from the workers is fear of another depression. Thus, the persecution of minority "radical groups" is not against them as such, but at the possibility of an economic collapse which would permit these groups to agitate among the workers and make headway. The American worker is "war-prosperity" conscious, that is, he does not believe prosperity can exist without a war.

Another factor also, intervenes, and that is the fear of Communist Party sabotage in the event of a global war with Russia. This occupies an important part in the thinking of the American ruling class which tracks down Communist Party members through their police and political frontmen. Right now, of the two factors—the fear of an economic collapse and danger of a war with Russia—I should judge the latter to gave a slight predominance, and this would account for the prosecution of the Communist Party on the one hand, and the only mild backhand sweeps at other political organizations of the working class. But since the authorities do not make a neat distinction between Russian state Capitalism and Socialism, when one or both factors named above reach a more advanced state, one can expect the blow to fall on all quarters, political groupings opposed to the Russian system, as well as those in support.
Karl Frederick.

American centuries, old and new (2003)

From the August 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The United States ended the twentieth century as the unchallenged global superpower, and its ruling class are determined not only to keep it that way but also, if possible, to extend their control over world events. The Free Trade Area of the Americas, for instance, which is due to be introduced in 2005, will enable the US to rule the roost in Central and South America, using cheap labour and preventing other countries from imposing import controls. Already, the North American Free Trade Agreement has helped ensure that most ordinary Mexicans are poorer than their parents were, to the benefit of US financial and industrial companies.

One particular vision of the future along such lines is contained in the documents of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) (see their website at*, from which the quotations below are taken). This is a think-tank and pressure group whose members include top politicans and industrialists; many past members are high up in the Bush administration, so it is in no way a fringe organisation. They argue that cuts in US defence spending (so-called) in recent years have made it difficult to sustain American influence around the world, so such spending needs to be significantly increased (recall that it is at present nearly $400 billion per year!). Armed forces that are ready for “tomorrow's battlefields” will serve the nation well and act as a deterrent against any possible upstart. In their own words:
“At present the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”
“The willingness to devote adequate resources to maintaining America's military strength can make the world safer and American strategic interests more secure now and in the future.”
The PNAC were of course strong advocates of the US attack on Iraq, claiming that a regime change would lead to democratisation not just of Iraq itself but of the whole of the Middle East, “an objective of overriding strategic importance to the United States”

Not much critical scrutiny is needed to see through this language of strategic interests and a safer world: the aim is to control access to raw materials (oil in particular), to ensure the availability of cheap labour, and to enable military bases to be sited and maintained where the US rulers wish. At the end of the 1970s, the US was powerless to prevent or undermine the takeover of the Iranian government by the ayatollahs, and the ensuing rise in oil prices; this is just the kind of situation that the US rulers and their mouthpieces seek to render impossible in future.

It may be felt that the capitalists in PNAC simply wish to get their snouts in the trough and to gain their firms' share of the massive US military spending. No doubt this is part of the truth, and there is some degree of conflict between companies that benefit from the defence budget and those that do not do so but still have to pay taxes. However, there is no firm and unvarying line between corporations that have big government orders placed with them and those that miss out on this jamboree. Most big companies stand to receive some gain from increased military spending – or hope to do so – and they are the ones that have the biggest say in determining government policy. But it is not simply a matter of some having their greedy fingers in the big-spending pie: such policies really are undertaken in the interests of the whole ruling class.

This, then, is the vision of America's rulers for the coming century: an enormous US military presence on a global scale, laying down what other countries can do, intimidating them into acceptance of the US order, and bombing them into submission when they forget their place. A world of “free trade” where the biggest bully in the playground enforces treaties and agreements in its own interest. A world of massacres and dictatorships, where the American capitalists rake in the billions, and ordinary people, wherever they live, are just pawns on the profit-oriented chessboard. Already, as the military budget grows under Bush, US spending on health care and education is being cut: teachers are getting the sack, and thousands of workers are losing health cover.

The other side
For a contrasting view of the USA, we can look at Studs Terkel's book My American Century. Terkel, who was born in 1912 and is still going strong, is a superb interviewer and oral historian who is able to get people to talk in eloquent and often moving ways about their lives. My American Century is a selection from his publications over the years, from Division Street (1967) to Coming of Age (1995), and provides an unforgettable portrait of twentieth-century America, mostly through the words of ordinary people. It is worth reading just for the story of CP Ellis (from American Dreams, 1980). Ellis was once president of a local Ku Klux Klan branch; he had joined because the Klan gave him a chance to “be something”, which had been beyond him as a poor white worker. But gradually he came to see that the rich were using him and his Klan colleagues to keep ordinary workers, black and white, in their place, and that all workers had the same problems. When Terkel interviewed him, Ellis was a union official, elected by a predominantly black membership.

Terkel's own position can be seen from the heartfelt opening of his introduction to Working (1972):
“This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.”
Time and again, Terkel's subjects talk of the boredom and meaninglessness of work, of how they feel they are treated worse than the machines they operate, of how they have no control over their job and feel no pride in it. But some kinds of work are rewarding. Tom Patrick, firefighter:
“I worked in a bank. You know, it's just paper. It's not real. Nine to five and it's shit. You're looking at numbers. But I can look back and say, 'I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody'. It shows something I did on this earth.”
But despite their frustrations, workers feel unable to find a real way of fighting back: as CP Ellis says, “Hatin' America is hard to do because you can't see it to hate it.”

Another remarkable theme is the way that workers look back to past times and see them as examples of solidarity and co-operation. There is quite likely some viewing the past through rose-coloured glasses here, but the way people value mutual help is clear over and again, especially in descriptions of the thirties:
“That period was the high point of my life. It was the Depression, when working people had a feeling for each other. We helped each other out in times of trouble.”
“A lot of times one family would have some food. They would divide. And everyone would share.”
Here's Tom Patrick again:
“I like everybody workin' together. You chip in for a meal together. One guy goes to the store, one guy cooks, one guy washes the dishes. A common goal. We got a lieutenant there, he says the fire department is the closest thing to socialism there is.”
Not quite – but workers who combine together towards a common goal in their own interests point far better towards the future than the plutocrats who want the whole world to become a means to their own wealth and power.
Paul Bennett

*Dead Link.

Eichmann: Who is Responsible? (1960)

Editorial from the July 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is impossible to condemn too strongly the terrible brutality of the killing of millions of people, Jews and others, of which Adolf Eichmann is accused. The majority of people have reacted to the press reports with a demand for his punishment. Learning of Eichmann's deeds, they take the short-sighted view that to deal with him as an individual is enough. But Eichmann is the end product of a vast process; he arose from the inhuman conditions of capitalist society. The very people who condemn him are content to leave those conditions untouched.

The working class, not only in Nazi Germany but in post-war Germany—and throughout the world—blindly support capitalism. None of them can escape responsibility for the consequences. For the power wielded by the rulers of world capitalism is a reflection of the political ignorance of the working class everywhere. It is absurd to blame one man, when he is only the instrument of a policy supported by millions. 

After a war, the defeated leaders are vilified, some imprisoned and others executed. The victorious leaders are enshrined as heroes. It is fortunate for the leaders of the 1939-45 Allies that no cloak-and-dagger men are hunting for them. They, too, are responsible for terrible slaughter. President Truman gave the orders for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Churchill, Attlee and Stalin supported this atrocity. In Hiroshima alone, 80,000 people were incinerated in a flash and hundreds more have since died—and are still dying—from various causes. Thousands of Germans were killed in the bombing of Hamburg and in the destruction of Dresden.

These are the vicious conditions which make possible the race hater and the mass exterminator. Although tens of millions of people have been butchered in the last two great wars, the world is not safe. The fear of war is still with us. Nowadays, many nations have vast armaments poised in readiness to exterminate each other. How many future Eichmann's wait to stalk upon the scene?

If only workers would find out why all this madness takes place! War is caused by the struggles between national capitalist Powers over markets and economic resources. This can only be cured by the abolition of capitalism. As long as workers support this system, so will they be vulnerable to the racial theorist who, on nationalist grounds, gets support for his programme of mass murder. The dictators of yesterday, and the dictators and leaders of today, with their frightening military machines, only reflect the preparedness of their workers to ignore the bloodshed of two world wars and still to die for capitalism.

It is futile to punish an individual whilst ignoring the vicious conditions which made him possible. Eichmann was involved in some terrible things—but the exterminations which he so methodically organised are only a part of the greatest atrocity of all—the capitalist system of society. As the movement for a classless world—for Socialism—takes root and spreads, so will the possibility of inhuman murderers like Adolf Eichmann decline and die.

Marie Curie - Part 2 (1956)

From the June 1956 of the Socialist Standard

Continued from the February issue.

ONCE the actual existence of Radium was proved a series of astounding developments followed. Taken up rapidly by the research workers of the world, its endless applications were, at first, bur dimly appreciated. 

Medical men tried it in the treatment of cancer, and scored successes. Pierre exposed his arm to it and received it painful burn. In 1903, Rutherford and Soddy, working on Marie's hypothesis, published their 'Theory of Radioactive Transformation', the theory that elements thought unchangeable are in spontaneous evolution. Radium gave out heat, affected other substances, pierced solid objects, and was luminous. Radium became 'big business'. A factory was started in France. Enquiries came from all over the world. At last the inevitable one arrived from America by a concern in Buffalo, requesting information on the production of Radium, and suggesting contracts for payment of license fees. For this it would have been necessary for the Curies to stake their claim: to patent their 'invention' and maintain secrecy in its processes. In reply to her husband's request as to whether they should declare themselves the 'proprietors' of Radium Marie replied (as Faraday and Pasteur had done before her): . 

"It is impossible. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit." 

The information required was given FREE to EVERYBODY. 

November, 1903, marked the first real turning point in the Curie's fortune. The Swedish Academy of Science decided to award them half the Nobel Prize in Physics. This amounted to about 70,000 francs, "for us, a huge sum." 

After this, the University of Paris had to create a chair in physics for Pierre Curie. 

More than this, he was officially allowed three paid assistants, and the chief of lab. nominated Madame Curie. The first woman to be thus accorded official recognition—the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Institution in London—and the first woman scientist of world rank, winner of the Nobel Prize. Pierre and Marie applied themselves to the new life. Both continued teacbing as before. 

Life was a little easier now. But, as is so often the case, Fate waited in the background to drown content in the cup of sorrow. 

On April 19th, 1906, Pierre Curie was leaving his publishers on the way to the Institute of Science, when be was run down by a heavy dray, the rear wheel passed over bis head; one of the greatest brains in the world ceased to think. The 20 foot wagon was loaded with military uniforms. 

The Government proposed to award Madame Curie and her children a State pension, which she indignantly refused. 

The University naturally desired to retain Marie in its faculty. But how! It was finally decided that there was only only one physicist capable of replacing Pierre Curie—Marie—his widow. This was the first time that a post in higher education was given to a woman. 

When the time came for her to start her course the hushed and tense audience heard her opening sentence with amazement. She started at the exact point where her late husband had concluded a year before. Finally, an agreement was made between Dr. Row, of the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris for the foundation of the institute of Radium, under the direction of Marie Curie. 

By this time, the honours, medals and prizes, showered upon her by the world's scientific bodies ran into hundreds; filling several printed pages. She was the only woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize twice. And so she went steadily on, instructing her pupils, continuing to direct research until the first world war, when she organised an X-ray Unit, which utilised the electrical knowledge she had discovered. 

Finally, she died in 1934, but not until she had made several triumphal tours to the United States, her native Warsaw, and the Far East. 

Eleanor Doorly in her Puffin Books little sketch 'The Radium Woman' tells the story of the attempts by Mrs Melmay to persuade the wealthy American women to give ten thousand dollars eacb to buy the discoverer of radium one gramme of it to permit her to continue her researches. Only three could be found. A subscription fund among the women of America raised the amount in less than a year. This gramme of radium was presented to her at the White House by the President of the United States. 

What is it that makes these two—Marie, and her husband Pierre, such lovable and attractive characters. Not their scientific prowess, not their almost superhuman concentration on the job to be done. No! Above all their self-effacing modesty, and refusal to assume superiority, Pierre's firm refusal to accept decorations, their avoidance of publicity, and renunciation of personal wealth. Not once, but several times, they turned down fortunes. They just wanted to work at the job they had chosen.

As Marie wrote later:- 
"Pierre Curie was little inclined to take an active part in politics.
"By education and feeling he was attached to democratic and socialist ideas, but he was dominated by no party doctrine." 
Pierre himself wrote at the beginning of their acquaintance
"It would be a fine thing to pass our lives near to each other, hypnotised by our dreams, your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream.
Of all those dreams the last is, I believe, the only legitimate one.
I mean by that, that we are powerless to change the social order, and, even if we were not, we should not know what to do in taking action, no matter in what direction, we should never be sure of not doing more harm than good by retarding some inevitable evolutions. From the scientific point of view, on the contrary, we may hope to do something, the ground is solider here and any discovery we may make, however small, will remain acquired knowledge." 
When the newspaper correspondents of two continents were rapping on their front door, they would slide off through the back on their bicycles. To-day it is fashionable to blame scientists for the existence of the Hydrogen bomb, and if we are consistent, nobody should be blamed more than Marie Curie, whose discovery of natural radium made the manufacture of artificial isotopes (radio-active substances) possible. 

Nothing could be more absurd. Pierre abhorred violence in every form. Both worked for humanity, If she is to be blamed for Atomic bombs, let her be praised for nuclear reactors. Film companies and magazine owners have made fortunes from their story. An aura of 'romantic' legend has been fabricated around it. 

Marie herself debunked it in the clearest terms. 
"It is true that the discovery of radium was made in precarious conditions; the shed which sheltered it seems clouded in the charms of legend. But this romantic element was not an advantage; it wore out our strength and delayed our accomplishment. With better means, the first five years of our work might have been reduced to two, and their tension lessened." 
They paid the price for their discovery in ruined health. 

Until radium became a saleable commodity nobody wanted to know, they could kill themselves, just two more screwy cranks. When there was money in it, how the letters poured in! Kings and Presidents rushed to shake their hands, award them medals, and toast their honour. 

And yet when Marie was invited back to Warsaw 24 years later at the opening of the Warsaw Institute of Radium, she spotted at a banquet in her honour a tiny white-haired old lady, Mde. Sikorska, her teacher at the boarding school she attended when a tot. Straightway the sincere unaffected Marie made her way down the tables to take her first teacher by the hands, and kiss her cheeks. 

Tbe atomic weight of Radium was announced in 1904. This year saw the birth of the Socialist Party in Great Britain. It was in that year, after nearly three years of exhausting drudgery, that Marie asked Pierre, after the children were put to bed, to go with her down to the damp and dingy old shed which housed their works. 

Opening the door and peering through the darkness they saw the queer phosphorescent gleam of a grain of pure radium, the supposedly indestructible molecules of matter were actually seething systems of whirling electrons in exploding atoms. 

Until the birth of the Socialist idea, and its realisation into a Party, the Capitalist system seemed indestructible too.

Socialism, in the realm of ideas, like radium in the physical world, gleamed with an inextinguishable glow, and affected those it contacted with a political "radioactivity." 

To Socialists the work of Marie Curie will always epitomise the struggle of the people for knowledge and freedom. 

Like those other martyrs of the battle, the heroic Communards of her beloved Paris, she will be forever "enshrined in the great heart of the working class." 

In actual numbers, or sheer physical size, the early S.P.G.B. roughly corresponded with the proportion of radium in pitch-blende, one to the million. 

Books "Madame Curie" by Eve Curie, Heinemann, "The Radium Woman," by Eleanor Doorly, Puffin Books

Marie Curie (1956)

From the February 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was a bleak morning in November, 1891, when a slight Polish girl clambered down the steps or the German coach at the Gare du Nord. In her hands was clutched her luggage, a folding chair (for the fourth class carriages on the German railways had no seats), a heavy quilt, some books, and food. 

She had travelled three days from Warsaw to join her sister, who, while qualifying as a doctor, had married a member of her faculty, also a Pole. 

Their mother had died when they were small, leaving the father to raise a family of four girls and a boy. 

Both father and mother were teachers. The father, a teacher of physics and mathematics out of favour with the Tsarist inspectors, found his family a problem. 

Poland was under the Tsar, no higher education, or professional status, was open to women. After several disappointing years in various posts as 'governess' to wealthy families, the girl, Marya, sumame Sklodowsky, counted up every farthing of her pitiful savings for the great adventure. 

She had left the Girls' High School in Warsaw with the highest marks obtainable, and a remarkable knowledge of four foreign languages. 

Now, at last, after years of scraping, she was in Pans, bringing her blankets, a mattress, towels and sheets, which her practical sister, Bronya, had said would save precious francs. Her goal, the legendary Sorbonne, now, as then, the largest University in the world. 

France, despite the setbacks of 1848 and the Commune, was still the most democratic country in Europe. Fees at the University were not high and no discrimination was made against applicants of foreign birth, off-white colour, or lowly origin; which a certain Creole, by name Paul Lafargue, had appreciated some years previously. 

Marya immediately plunged into a life of fanatical study, her star, the Master's degree in Physical Science. Lodging with her married sister, at first, she subsequently rented a tiny sixth-floor attic in the Latin Quarter to save time and bus fares. Food and warmth were secondary—so limited were her means (partly a small sum contributed by her ageing father), that she regularly frequented the public library till closing time to save a penny on lamp oil. 

If her brother-in-law had not found her and not been a doctor of medicine, radium might be unknown to this day, for she was unconscious in her garret from starvation, cold and fatigue. 

A few beefsteaks in the country soon fixed that, with the result that for the first time a girl was top in the master's degree examinations in Physics in 1893. 

This triumph was repeated in 1894 when she was first in Physics—and second in Maths. Her outstanding success secured her modest employment in research, as assistant and later as full-fledged research scientist to the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry. More than this, upon return to Poland to see her father—even the officials in Warsaw had at least sense enough to realise that here, they were onto something, and granted her a bursary far a further year's study at the Sorbonne. Back she went, with nothing less that the Doctor's degree as her aim. 

For this, an original discovery is required. Characteristically, Marya selected as the subject of her doctor's theses, just about the most difficult job there was. She decided to investigate the source of Henri Becqueret's mysterious rays. The French physicist had been working on the strange emanations from uranium salts which he had discovered. 

For her research into the magnetism of steel she required same rather heavy equipment. A Polish Professor of Physics, visiting Paris, Joseph Kovalski, offered to speak to the chief of the laboratory of the School of Physics and Chemistry, on her behalf. The name of this unique young scientist was Pierre Curie. He was a Bachelor of Science at 16, a Master of Physics at 18. His father practised medicine for a livelihood though his bent was research. 

A staunch '48er, Papa was a freethinking radical of the old brigade. To make quite certain that his brilliant son had a real education, he took care to see that he did not go to any school. He taught the boy himself and afterwards secured him a gifted tutor. 

The result of the introduction of Marya to Pierre Curie was marriage. 

Shortly before his marriage Pierre published the results of his research into crystalline physics, which won him a brilliant Doctor's degree. During this time the sole income of the pair was his salary of 500 franes per month. 

Until Marya passed first in the examinations and for a Fellowship in secondary education. it was impossible for her to teach in France. Meantime, in September, 1897, Marya gave birth to her first daughter Irene, destined to become a famous physicist, and marry her mother's most able pupil, Frederic Joliot. 

Marya decided to study the ionisation power of uranium—that is, to test it on an electroscope, an instrument showing a charge by raising a piece of gold-leaf. In a few weeks she was on to the idea that the radiations of uranium were an atomic property of the material itself. 

The problem of whether any other substances possessed these powers next arose.

Her job now was to test every known chemical body. Soon another material, the element thorium, was found to emit radiation. Madame Curie suggested that this peculiar property be called 'radio-activity'. Continuing along the path she had set, the young scientist proceeded to examine every specimen of mineral known to contain uranium, or thorium. for activity. To her astonishment, certain substances quite deficient in either of these elements proved more radio-active than either of them. 

To this there could only be one answer. She had examined all the known elements, therefore the powerful radio-activity must come from an unknown—a new element. An element is a substance consisting entirely of atoms of the same atomic number. 

There now began one of the most astounding quests in all the remarkable history of scientific discovery. The proportion of the active stuff was minute—it was like looking for a needle in a haystack as big as a mountain—one gramme to one ton, or about one in one million

The strongest rays of all had been given by the mineral pitch-blend, a greyish by-product of the glass making industry of Bohemia. The first ton was obtained, and the job that was to take four years began. The material had to be heated, evaporated and allowed to crystallise, like sugar, and the crystals tested. Twelve months after commencing her research the following communication was published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Science . 

"The various reasons we have just enumerated lead us to believe that the new radio-active substance contains a new element to which we propose to give the name of Radium . . . The radio-activity of Radium must be enormous." 

As is usual, this announcement met with sceptical indifference. Polonium and radium had to be 'shown' to the scientists before they would believe it. 

To find a place to do the job was the first problem. They were loaned the use of a shed at the Institute of Physics. 

To get the stuff was the second. By a lucky break, the Austrian Government decided to present a ton of pitch-blend free, as a sample, though carriage had to be paid. To live while working was the third. Pierre had to go on teaching. Not only this, but at a critical stage in her research work, Marie had to turn out too. 

She accepted a post as lecturer in physics at the Higher Normal School for Girls at Sevres, near Versailles, a Teachers' Training College. 

This meant hours of setting lessons, preparing experiments, and correcting 'homework', while the greatest discovery of all time was postponed. During all this time the Curie's most urgent needs, a decent laboratory in which to work, was denied them. Despite all the efforts of his friends neither the University nor the Academy of Science would make him any appointment carrying adequate laboratory facilities. At last, Paul Appell (head of the physics faculty) made a further attempt by means of a manoeuvre, namely, by nominating Pierre for award of the Legion of Honour. 

Here is Pierre's reply:- 

"Please be so kind as to thank the Minister and to inform him that I do not feel the slightest need of being decorated, but that I am in the greatest need of a laboratory." 

Some three years later Pierre and Marie were invited to, the Royal Scientific Institution in London to receive the Davy Gold Medal. Upon their return to Paris Pierre gave it to the children to play with. 

Marie, at one of the brilliant functions organised after the discovery of Radium, was asked by the wife of the President of the Republic of France, "Would you like to meet his Excellency the King of Greece?" 

"I don't see the utility!" was her reply. 

It was inevitable that under the severe strains of earning a living by teaching science, bringing up two daughters, and devoting every available minute left to the completion of the task of isolating a grain of radium, the health of both Pierre and Marie would break down. By 1903 Pierre was suffering violent attacks of frightful pain periodically. In the same year Marie endured a miscarriage due, as she herself admitted, to 'general fatigue'. 

In her work to obtain salts of pure radium Marie was in the words of her daughter-biographer Eve, 'a factory all by herself'. 

Eve Curie's book 'Marie Curie', is a MUST for every Socialist. 

"We had no money, no laboratory, and no help," she wrote. And yet it was in this miserable old shed that the best and happiest years of our life were spent . . . I sometimes passed the whole day stirring a boiling mass with an iron rod nearly as big as myself, In the evening I was broken with fatigue." 

Forty-five months after the day in which they had forecast the probable existence of Radium, Marie announced its atomic weight, 225. Nineteenth Century Science was knocked out. A new chapter in its chequered history had begun 

(To be continued.)
(Part two is here.)

The Problem is Not the Tories … it's Capitalism (2015)

Party News from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The problem is not Austerity... that’s just a turn of the screw. We have always been rationed by the size of our pay cheque and the poor have always been poor. It used to Soup Kitchens; now it's Food Banks. Meanwhile the rich go on getting richer. We can't hope to end poverty and inequality – whether in Britain or throughout the planet – until we get rid of production of wealth for the exclusive profit of a few.

The problem is not Trident... it's war. Getting rid of Trident makes barely a dent in the global killing machine fuelled by capitalism's wars over our bosses' markets and resources. A campaign against Trident alone leaves the cause of war –capitalism – untouched.

The problem is not Zero-Hours Contracts ... it's wage-slavery. Unions should fight for the best deal they can get. But let's not kid ourselves that the system of employment can ever be geared to our needs..

Some argue that we need to just focus on defeating the Tories. Or that we need to try and make capitalism work. Or that, to establish ‘progressive politics’, the Labour Party needs a leftwing leader or that Scotland needs to separate from England. We were once told us to put our trust in Tony Blair; now it’s Jeremy Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon who’s the great hope.

The fate of the Labour Party is an irrelevance. The rise of the SNP is a side show. Real political change has never come through leaders, and it never will. We have the potential to make real change rather than just tinker at the margins. So, let’s start to end capitalism. Otherwise it’s the same old same old.

As a poet once said. 'You are many – they are few'. We can make a democratic revolution – but only based on real understanding of how capitalism works against our interests, and how reforms of capitalism will always be offered in order to distract us. You just cannot challenge capitalism and reform it at the same time.

Demos and rallies may make us feel like we are 'doing something', but it’s an illusion. The real battle is over ideas: the ideas in the heads of those who do all the work but get little reward. That's why the rich and powerful spend so much time trying to suppress and ridicule any idea of an alternative

The world is rich enough. We can have a world where free access to wealth replaces the market where useful work is to be enjoyed rather than endured, and where no individual can monopolise access to wealth. Armed with knowledge, humanity can finally start to demand the possible.
— adapted from a leaflet issued by our Glasgow branch.

Greasy Pole: It's Hattersley's Party - Right? Or Wrong? (2001)

The Greasy Pole Column from the June 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Roy Hattersley - or Lord Hattersley as we must call him since he left the Commons to become a Life Peer in 1997 - is a Nearly Man. He is among a large bunch of disconsolate political animals roaming the wastelands of frustrated ambition. Each of these animals at some time had hopes of leading their party, even of posing ecstatically on the front doorstep of Number Ten while the removal men took their furniture in through the back way. But something went wrong for them; perhaps they were outwitted by a slicker rival, or they unwisely upset someone influential or they lost their place in the queue because of an untimely death. Whatever the reason their hopes died and they had to find what consolation they could in writing their memoirs in the hope that someone would read about how they were cheated of the great prize or drowning their sorrows in floods of money from some lucrative City consultancy. And of course they can spend their time sniping at the people who had once been their party colleagues.
That last option has been favoured by Hattersley, who has used his weekly column in the Guardian to berate Blair's government for their failure to transform British capitalism in such a way that a grateful electorate would be persuaded to return them to power at this election and the next and the next ... As every Guardian reader knows, the paper acts as a kind of psychiatrist's couch for disillusioned Labour supporters, who have found much of Hattersley's criticisms to be therapeutic. So far none of the patients on the couch has asked him what responsibility he accepts for Labour's dismal record and why, if he has so many reservations about that party, he remains a member of it.
Perhaps in anticipation of that question, Hattersley devoted his column on 7 May to explaining that, in spite of everything "It's still my party right or wrong". The piece did full justice to its dogmatic title because it was a feeble meander through a landscape of false logic and transparent excuses:
"Am I still what I would once call 'a Labour man' because of sentiment, the comfort that comes from imagined familiarity, or because the Tories are so much worse? ... Sentiment is certainly part of the explanation ... If I had no better reason for hoping for a Labour victory on June 7, I would want Tony Blair back in Downing Street because he leads my tribe ... despite all its pathetic timidity and its current admiration for the values of a meretricious society, it remains the best prospect of building a new society - one day."
Bemused Labour supporters - and earnest Guardian readers - may not rate that very highly as a convincing case for misusing their political power to change society by voting to leave it as it is. They may also wonder how, after destroying one after another the arguments for voting Labour, Hattersley can still be so tortuously agile as to support the party. Perhaps that is something you learn through being a Nearly Man.
Hattersley cut his political teeth on the Sheffield City Council and got into Parliament for Birmingham Sparkbrook in 1964. Those were great days for Labour and all those who were suckers for the type of deception so deftly practised by Harold Wilson. He had it all worked out; through sheer brain power his party would master-mind a technological expansion which would dramatically increase productivity and they would then plan it all so as to abolish the very elements of capitalist economy. It did not take long for capitalism to see off that spasm of deceit, by proving that its essential anarchy was more powerful than any political party's intention to plan it into order.
This experience did not shake Hattersley's confidence that one day Labour would be there to usher in a new society. His response to that government's difficulties was to decide that what was needed was a new leader. In that way he busied himself trying to replace Wilson with some other, equally unpromising, charlatan. In July 1966 he backed George Brown, which was not an entirely wise choice in view of Brown's unstable temperament and his tendency to attract much unwelcome media attention through being tired and emotional in public. There was also Brown's habit, when he felt slighted, of offering to resign from the government. When one of these offers was accepted - probably to Brown's astonishment - Hattersley switched his support to Roy Jenkins, whose liking for a drink was rather more civilised than Brown's since his taste was for fine sherry and claret consumed in exclusive company.
When Wilson resigned, making all the plotting against him redundant, Hattersley at first supported Anthony Crosland for the leadership, then switched to James Callaghan. When he went to tell Crosland about this, Crosland, who had so high opinion of his abilities that he was probably quite unable to understand how anyone could possibly support another candidate, used just two words to tell Hattersley to go away. That was not a happy time for Labour government, struggling to survive with a minuscule majority in face of the kind of economic problems with which capitalism has destroyed many a government. Hattersley soldiered on, with a kind of grim enthusiasm, helping to set up the arrangements with the Liberals and the Ulster Unionists which kept the government going long after they should have resigned. He was given the important job of opening the debate on the government's "counter inflationary" policy - which really meant the attempt to hold down wage rises at five percent. As the 1970s drew to a close and Labour seemed doomed to a spell in opposition desperate supporters began to discuss his chances as a future leader.

When, soon after that, the Labour Party did their best to help the Tories give them a drubbing at the polls by electing gentlemanly, bookish Michael Foot as their leader, Hattersley was gloomy at the prospect of the unthinkable happening - a Labour victory on a left-wing manifesto which they could not implement. In fact as an objection this does not rate very highly because, as is so obvious in this election, manifesto promises are never intended to be taken seriously. In any case Labour's crushing defeat at the 1983 election meant that whether they kept their promises was a non-issue. As soon as they could after the election the party sent Foot back to spend more time with his books and began to choose another leader. Hattersley's day had come.
The leadership election of 1983 was between Hattersley and Neil Kinnock. When Kinnock won Hattersley became Deputy Leader, which enabled the two of them to pose with linked hands held aloft to proclaim that they were the dream ticket for the next election. Except that in 1987 the election was more of a nightmare, with another defeat. Their manifesto was as unreal as any that Foot could have been elected on - reduce unemployment by a million in two years, combat poverty "directly", reduce hospital waiting lists, combat bad housing, overcrowding, homelessness - the same problems they claim to be dealing with today - and of course "Britain will win with a Labour government".
In August 1983 Hattersley shared his views on poverty with the British Association. As he had been a member of a government which had signally failed to relieve this problem it might have been expected that he would show a little regret or puzzlement, if not humility, when holding forth on the subject. But that is not the way of political leaders. After giving examples of differences in life styles between rich and poor he moved on to the serious business of doing something about it. He did not seem at all troubled that he might, like Michael Foot, make some promises which could not be kept. "The practical programme," he said, "for creating a more equal society is not difficult to construct.". Neither was he troubled by the fact that the 1974-79 government had found that programme not only difficult, but impossible, to construct. To take just one analysis of the effect of their policies, in July 1979 the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth stated that when Labour came to power the top one percent of the population had owned 22.5 percent of the country's wealth. By 1976 the same minority owned 24.9 percent of the wealth. That trend - which was not towards a "more equal" society - had carried on until that government was defeated in 1979.

That remains true of today. Under the Blair government there are many surveys about poverty and inequality which indicate that poverty flourishes and the gap widens. In his column of 14 May Hattersley told us that "... after the election (Gordon Brown's) first priority would be a drive against child poverty". He did not encourage his readers to reflect that that had been a priority of every Labour government and that each time they have failed there have been wordsmiths like him to try to soothe over the failure. Now he writes: "... equality is the hallmark of a good society. Labour remains the best hope of keeping that idea alive. The prospect may be remote ... ". In other words - in spite of reality it's still his party, right or wrong - except that it has to be wrong because it can't be right.