Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Passing of Hardy (1928)

From the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Primarily this journal is an organ of political propaganda. As such, any attempt to appraise the work of the late Thomas Hardy would be somewhat out of place. But there is one feature connected with his death which needs underlining and emphasising. We refer to the attitude of that old enemy of mankind, the Church. Here was a man who throughout most of a long and thoughtful life, had no use for the Church and its teaching whatever. Although at one time an orthodox Churchman, he has since confessed he found no happiness therein. As an artist in life, he truthfully portrayed the part played by the Church in rural conditions. He recognised its utility to certain primitive, immature minds. But, as a man, he had no need of it. He saw men and women as the puppets of circumstance. He saw life as a
“Chequerboard of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays."
And to Destiny he imputed an almost impish irony. Throughout his works, like a theme, there runs this thread of cynical frustration.

But it seems there are heights of irony of which even Hardy never dreamed. For hardly had he breathed his last, before the Church, whose teachings he had repulsed in life, claimed his corpse for her own. Apart from the fact that he was a known Agnostic, Hardy had specifically recorded in the opening sentence of his will, his desire to be buried with his own folk at Stinsford. No matter, he was a great man, too great for the Church to attempt to belittle, so they annexed him. There was a further difficulty : Hardy was known to have opposed cremation, and cremation is necessary before burial in the Abbey. The way out of that dilemma was easy. Ignore it. Hardy was dead anyway. What of his relatives, his friends? Yes! they were opposed to the old man's last wishes being trampled on. The Daily News correspondent interviewed his brother Henry, his sister Kate, and a cousin, Teresa Hardy. He records :—"They were all very emphatic in declaring their disappointment at Hardy being taken away from them. . . . Teresa Hardy, when I asked her if she did not appreciate the honour done to her cousin, said : 'There is nothing in honour. He wanted to be buried in Stinsford Churchyard, and I think it is cruel not to do as he wished.' " Even the Mayor of Dorchester, Mr. W. F. Hodges, said the proposed Abbey burial would leave a sore feeling in the town.

No matter! The Church must have its poppy-show. An ingenious expedient was suggested. As they could not have Hardy's body buried with his ancestors, the local Rector suggested they might have a piece of him, and it was hurriedly arranged that poor old Hardy's heart should be cut out and buried at Stinsford. As all the world knows, this was done. What Hardy would have thought of the whole proceeding, one can imagine. It is difficult to conceive anything more repulsive and disgusting, in an age which so constantly claims to be "enlightened," and the comments of posterity should be worth reading. Sentiment still plays an important part in human affairs, and possibly will so continue for many years to come. But it is hard to imagine the sentimental majority of people viewing the barbaric mutilation of gentle old Hardy's body with any feelings other than loathing.
W. T. Hopley

Rusted Iron Lady (1992)

Book Review from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Economy Under Mrs Thatcher 1979-90. By Christopher Johnson. Penguin, 1991. £5.99

This is a generally readable account of the economic policies pursued by the Conservative governments under Mrs Thatcher, containing a useful appendix of statistics on everything from trends in economic growth to changing employment patterns. Johnson, a specialist adviser to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, shows that even on Thatcher's own dubious terms, her governments were a decidedly mixed bag—with notable failures to deal with unemployment, inflation and economic growth.

Though Thatcher is usually portrayed as a clear-sighted, no-nonsense politician, this book goes some way towards undermining the image by hinting at the very real confusion of her governments with regard to the conduct of economic policy. Though Johnson only touches the surface, there is a definite recognition that a core confusion of Thatcherite economic policy was on the subject closest to her heart—inflation.

Throughout the 1980s Conservative governments showed themselves to be hopelessly unclear about the cause of the persistent rise in the price level, and proved themselves incapable of halting the phenomenon to which they attached so much importance. Early intentions to slow the rate of growth of the money supply foundered on an inability to understand exactly what constitutes money, and from that point on government policy plumbed the depths of confusion. In the long-running farce since then, inflation has been blamed on a multitude of factors ranging from high wage rises to low interest rates, excessive government expenditure to incorrect tax policy and beyond. Everything, that is, except its real cause—the policy pursued by all governments alike since the Second World War, of printing an excess issue of inconvertible paper currency in an attempt to secure a buoyant economy.

While the stubborn rises in the price level continued to bewilder Tory politicians, the policy aims of economic growth and low unemployment also provoked confusion among the ranks of Thatcher's ministers and advisers. All her governments were marked by a tension between those who thought so-called "monetarist" policies on state expenditure and trade union reform could pave the way to truly lasting economic growth, and others, who, in their more realistic moments, took a rather different view. This realistic perspective, forced on the Conservatives by events, was summed up by former chancellor Nigel Lawson in 1990, who told the House of Commons that "there always have been economic cycles and there always will be economic cycles".

We might add to this remark that there will always be economic cycles so long as capitalism lasts, and that only socialism can put an end to them. Similarly, only social ownership of the means of living with production solely for use can provide the framework for the abolition of poverty, homelessness, crime and those other afflictions of capitalist society that flourished under the now rusted-up Iron Lady, none of which her economic policies proved capable of solving.
Dave Perrin 

Greasy Pole: Baby David Speaks (2012)

The Greasy Pole Column from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the more memorable examples of urban unrest dredged up by the analysts after last August's riots was Tottenham, that place in North London with the Seven Sisters Road and White Hart Lane, Jimmy Greaves and, less happily, the tragedies of Baby P and Victoria Climbie. And the Broadwater Farm Estate where in 1985 there was a riot on a scale to ensure its place in the record books.  The riot was notable, too, for the killing of P C Blakelock, an event which led to Winston Silcott being sent to prison for life only to be released in 1991 when his conviction was found to be based on fabricated evidence.

Bernie Grant
It took a long time for Tottenham to adjust to the memories of those events and to the fragile tension which followed. This was not helped when the Leader of Haringey Council, Bernie Grant, shrugged off the killing of the policeman in the memorable description that “...what (the police) got was a bloody good hiding”. It says enough about those times that Grant went on to be elected when the Parliamentary seat at Tottenham became vacant in 1987 and later stood for the leadership of the Labour Party. He died of a heart attack in 2000; his wife was on the candidates’ short list but the party, perhaps hoping for a less combustible representative, preferred one David Lammy who, when he was elected in June 2000, may have warmed many a Tottenham heart by becoming the Baby of the House – not expected to turn out to be like one of those gurgling, screeching, defecating infants who keep you awake at night.

Thatcher vs Beveridge
And so it has turned out as Lammy, with his scholarships and Masters Degree and being called to the bar, is one of what some electors are comforted to call “middle class”. And perhaps to foster this he was quickly assumed to be well suited to a smooth, unhindered rise up the Greasy Pole with a succession of ministerial posts eventually reaching the heights of Minister of State and Privy Councillor. All this came to an abrupt end with the 2010 election. As the Labour Party subsequently struggled to unravel the chaos of Gordon Brown's leadership, Lammy's contribution to their leadership election did not seem to be entirely free of confusion.  He nominated Diane Abbott while declaring his support for Ed Miliband, then refused Miliband's obliging offer of a place in the Shadow Cabinet on the grounds that he wished to be free to speak on a wide range of issues. Labour members may have seen this as something of a continuous process when he bewildered them by writing that he saw common ground between two people who they had always regarded as at opposite ends of the political spectrum: “ . . . to knit society back together again . . . means a working class with a stake in capitalism and a middle class with faith once again in the welfare state. It requires fulfilling the goals expressed by both Mrs. Thatcher and Beveridge, not one or the other” (Out of the Ashes – Britain After the Riots).

Smacking Children
There was more to come on the same theme. At a meeting in September 2011 of the “think tank” Policy Exchange he warned, “We can't have another generation that are routinely unemployed for longer than a year. We have to guarantee these people work otherwise we will pay the price dearly”. But in January he was advising a markedly different explanation for the riots, declaring that they were due to “. . . an explosion of hedonism and nihilism,” rather than government cuts or unemployment. He expanded on this analysis by linking the riotous behaviour to legal restraints on parents smacking children: “Many of my constituents came up to me after the riots and blamed the Labour Government, saying, 'You guys stopped us being able to smack our children”. He then displayed more confusion by outlining the problems of all those frustrated unsmacking parents who “. . . raise children on the 15th floor of a tower block with knives, gangs and the dangers of violent crime outside the window”, contrasting them with those he can classify as “middle class” who can afford to place their children in private schools where they are taught “discipline” and have tennis lessons.

Contradicting Lammy's ravings, there is a mass of established evidence that anti-social behaviour is deep-rooted in poverty and alienation, aggravated by the police assertion as the guardians of property society and its system of class privilege. A study by the London School of Economics and the Guardian – one of many – which interviewed 270 of the rioters last December said that 86 percent of those interviewed gave poverty as the main cause; 85 per cent said the police were “important”; and 79 percent said unemployment. There is no record of anyone mentioning restraints on parental smacking of children. If, as Lammy blusters, “hedonism” and “nihilism” were contributory factors, that is likely to be, as an observer of a typical Saturday afternoon in any shopping centre will notice, the effects of the “branding” of goods which is designed to be a powerful aid in a profitable sales method. The problems displayed in the riots and beyond are severe and toxic. The events at Broadwater Farm took place 26 years ago. Has nothing been learned since then, as the politicians promised?  Has nothing of any consequence changed? As long as the matter is left to the likes of David Lammy, that is all there is to look forward to.

Obituaries: Harry Edwards; Phyllis Howard; Vic Berry; Neil Brodie (1990)

Obituaries from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Harry Edwards

West London branch members were shocked by the death of Comrade Harry Edwards at their branch meeting on 1 February at the age of 67.

Harry Edwards had joined the old Paddington branch of the Party in 1947 after being demobbed from the army, later transferring to Ealing and then to West London. He worked for the old road transport division of the railways, a job which entitled him to travel cheaply all over Europe where he had many friends and contacts and from which he retired early. This gave him the time to pursue the things that really interested him, the local rowing and chess clubs (he had been a keen rower in his younger days, the captain of his club in fact) as well as socialist activity.

At the time of his death he was branch treasurer, acting Central Branch Secretary and member of the Standing Orders Committee preparing this year's Conference at Easter. A quiet reliable man who was always prepared to take on such essential if unglamorous tasks in a revolutionary organisation, he will be missed both by the Party and his family.

Phyllis Howard

Phyllis died peacefully on New Year's Day 1990 at the age of 83.

She joined the Party in 1934, together with her future husband, Arthur George. Both were members of Bloomsbury Branch (now Camden), and were tireless workers of the Party in the 30s and the difficult period during and immediately after the war.

Phyllis served on practically every Party committee, including several years on the Executive Committee. Her last official post was that of General Secretary. In addition, she was a candidate in a local election in the 60s.

For many years she was secretary of the Editorial Committee of the Socialist Standard and the committee met regularly at her home in North London. Phyllis never really recovered from Arthur's unexpected death in 1982, and her health deteriorated.

All who met her will remember her as a warm-hearted and gentle person. Her contribution to the SPGB will be remembered with appreciation.

Vic Berry

We regret to have to announce the death last November of our Comrade V. J. Berry. Vic Berry first joined the old Leyton branch of the Party in 1932 and before the war was a regular speaker at the Party's outdoor stations in Leyton, East Ham and Hackney. Like so many others, family commitments led to him dropping out of activity for a number of years, and it was only in 1963 that he rejoined, Camberwell branch. On his retirement he moved to Torquay from where he continued to propagate socialist ideas. His last article, on Robert Owen, appeared in the October Socialist Standard.

Neil Brodie

Neil Brodie, who died in early January, joined the old Chiswick Branch of the Party in 1938, and was a member of the later Ealing and West London branches, for which he was the Treasurer for 18 years. As a young man he had come to London from Scotland and worked as a civil servant at the Post Office. When the Post Office Savings Bank moved to Glasgow he took the opportunity to return to Scotland where he remained after his retirement.

We extend our sympathy to his wife and daughter.

The Role of Youth (1975)

From the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why doesn't the Socialist Party of Great Britain have a "youth section", a sort of dumping ground for kiddies whom we're ashamed to accept as real party members? After all, the other parties thrive on their glorious youth movements. You see, it serves two purposes: firstly, it gets rid of the hopelessly stupid kiddies who haven't yet learnt to recite the respective "left" or "right"-wing crap adequately; and secondly, it serves as a launching pad for opportunists like Peter Hain (Young Liberals) and Tariq Ali (IMG) whose lack of political ability could only go unnoticed by a group of below average school-kids and a bunch of equally careerist university students.

Membership of the SPGB is based upon a test, not differing whether is a boy of ten or an Oxford don. Entry into the Socialist Party is based solely upon the acceptance of Socialism, not age, sex, race or intellectual ability. And then the "left wing" call us "sectarian".

What then are the issues concerning young people today? Do they differ that much from their parents?

Education is one thing which modern youth are very concerned about. Most people are concerned about their job, the condition in which they do it and their relationship to their boss. It is quite right that young people should be equally concerned. Modern workers join trade unions, so do modern youth. The National Union of Students, despite its ridiculous political illusions of itself, has now gained some degree of respect from the trade union movement and fails rarely to represent its members. The National Union of School Students, possessing the same political illusions as the NUS and failing equally, is at least a start in the acceptance by the education authorities that school students have the right to negotiate conditions with them.

On the less "immediate" side, but something which on the whole most young people are "against", is war. It would be fair to say that, if asked, most young people today would claim to be "against war". The thing is had you asked Dad in 1930 or Granddad in 1910, they too would have been "against war", but like the CND and the "pacifists" of today would be, they were the first in line to join the army when "Queen and country" called.

It is currently popular for young people to say that they are "frustrated" (or be told so by psychologists with nothing else to do). It is never quite clear what they are frustrated from doing. Indeed, of the truth were known, if the school lessons, the paper round and the endless nights "up the disco" were taken away, most of them would spend all day glued to the box getting even more frustrated. Being young is sometimes looked upon as a rather undignified status. "He's not a Man yet," says the wage slave, "because he's not like me" . . . yet! It is thought of future life which causes frustration.

The problems confronting old and young people are exactly the same. Most people like decent working conditions, no wants to be killed in a war, nearly everyone is fed up. Why? The root cause of all the trouble is capitalism, the system of society, not based on the satisfaction of human needs, but the accumulation of profit by a small minority. If you're fed up, it's not because you're young it's because of capitalism.

Have young people recognised the fact? What of all this talk of "the new revolutionary youth" or Rhodes Boyson's cries of woe about communist infiltration into the education system? The answer is that the modern youth are no nearer accepting Socialism than their parents were. But it is not for want of trying. They support parties like the Young Communist League, the International Socialists, the International Marxist Group, the Workers Revolutionary Party and even the Labour Party "Young Socialists". Most become disillusioned after a while, few ever understand Socialism. Let the private armies rest assured, there is no "mass revolutionary youth".

Today more young people are coming to Socialist meetings, buying Socialist literature, many are no doubt reading this very SOCIALIST STANDARD. They are beginning to see the stupidity of vanguardism, of violence, of Russian and Chinese nationalism, of Leninist and Trotskyist propaganda. As the "Left" declines, the more young people are considering and accepting the Socialist case.

What alternative does Socialism give to young people for the future? A world based on common ownership, not private or State ownership. A democratic society in which you are are your own leader and in which voluntary co-operation will take the place of State coercion. A system in which eduction will be not only for the young, but for anyone seeking knowledge. In which work will be for social need and personal satisfaction, not for wages. A world in which talent will be freely expressed, not stifled. Socialism is the world of the future for both young and old. Its establishment depends on your acceptance of it.
Steve Coleman 

A Question for Members of the Labour Party (1937)

From the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The modern propertied class, like their slave-owning predecessors, get something for nothing. They can live without working. They live on the surplus products of the wealth-producers, while the latter obtain only a subsistence wage, more or less. The propertied class live on the backs of the working class, but they do not put it as crudely as that. They call it rent, interest and profit, and hedge it about with legal safeguards and moral disguises. They are full of promises of better things for those whom they exploit. They will, as Tolstoy said, do everything for the workers except get off their backs. The workers, therefore, must perform this parasite-shedding operation for themselves. They do not lack counsellors, prominent among them being the Labour Party. In endless pamphlets and speeches the Labour Party promises to put things right. It will do so, it says, by nationalisation, public control, State regulation, investment boards and so on. But all of this is to be subject to one condition which the Labour Party affects to regard as a rather clever strategic move. The condition is that the propertied class are to be compensated. The Labour Party's programme of action, called For Socialism and Peace, says that "the public acquisition of industries and services will involve the payment of fair compensation to existing owners . . . the suggested basis of compensation, broadly, is the net reasonable maintainable revenue of the industry concerned." Major Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, enlarged upon this in a speech at a luncheon of the British Railway Stockholders' Union at the Hotel Splendide, Piccadilly, on January 14th 1937. He assured his audience of investors in the railways that the Labour Party would "like to make your securities more secure. We should like to turn you into holders of shares in the community rather than the railway companies" (Daily Telegraph, January 15th, 1937).

So the parasites are not to be shaken off, only made more secure. Tolstoy's apt words have become out-of-date and must be rewritten: "The Labour Party saviours of the working class will do everything for the working class except get the parasites off their backs."

It would be interesting to know what the rank and file of the Labour Party really think about this.
Edgar Hardcastle