Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tabloid justice (2000)

Editorial from the September 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
UK Civilisation, 2000—An ugly, wretched mob spews its anger towards the waiting cameras: “HANG PAEDOPHILES” say their scrawled banners. They scream for vengeance and teach their kids to cry out for the bogey men to be driven from their houses and then hanged.
Meanwhile, the putrid News of the World, where scantily-clad teenagers are paid to get 'em off for Murdoch's semi-literate customers, runs a campaign to Name and Shame sex offenders. The President of the US, who exploited the pathetic loyalty of an intern young enough to be his daughter and then lied about it for a year, is not mentioned. Neither is the dinosaur Pope who bullies his followers into fearing birth control and runs an organisation which requires young men and women to live as sexually repressed priests and nuns. Named and shamed are sick people who will be driven by the publicity to pursue their perverse sexual desires in shadowy secrecy.
The aim of the terror tactics against alleged sex offenders (several of whom have proved to be quite innocent of any crimes or even allegations) is to drive them away. It is a remedy with all the sensitivity of a pogrom. The truth is that anti-social behaviour cannot simply be cast out or exorcised, but will only disappear when its cause is treated. So, let's look at causes.
The overwhelming majority of cases of sexual abuse occur inside families, where children fall victim to more powerful relatives from whom they cannot easily escape. Very few offences are committed by strangers.
Most convicted sexual abusers were themselves abused as children. They are continuing a pattern of abuse and unless the cycle is broken this can carry on through several generations.
The kind of therapy needed to treat sex abusers is very expensive. It is cheaper to either leave such problems unattended or to lock offenders up in special wings of prisons. As ever under capitalism, money is the issue. It costs far less to spread scare stories about wicked men in dirty macs than to start the patient process of helping offenders to see their sexuality differently.
Money stands in the way of a proper response to sex offences. And it is the direct cause of other kinds of abuse of children. What about kids who have to work ten or twelve hours a day in Third World sweat shops producing cheap imports for multinational companies? What about kids who are forced on to the streets of Bangkok and many other cities to provide purchasable sex for visiting businessmen? What about kids who are pushed into armies and slaughtered for someone else's profits? What about kids who are allowed to perish for lack of food—millions of them every year—while food is dumped into the sea to preserve profit levels? When will the News of the World name and shame those responsible for such disgusting crimes against children? A conspicuous silence from the Murdoch lie factory is drowned out by its self-righteous shrieking in favour of vigilante justice.
Anarchist advocates of spontaneous "people's justice" should watch the scenes of recent weeks and recognise the danger of uneducated mobs trying to sort out the problems of capitalism. The people involved in these sordid protests are running on frustration and aggression fuelled by poverty and tabloid bigotry. Only an educated working class can solve its own problems, not chanting rednecks with a taste for vengeance.

Obituary: Nancy Kersley (1978)

Obituary from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Old members will be sorry to hear of the death of Nancy Kersley, on June 19th, about two months before her 90th birthday. Although her activity was of a different kind from that of her late husband Ted, she was, in her quiet and unassuming way, deeply attached to the Party and its work. Comrades who knew them will remember how hospitable their home was, and how readily they were welcomed, with something, more often than not, to eat and drink. Her roots were in the working-class movement. Her father and her grandfather, going back to Chartist days, had both been active. Before the first world war she employed in the clothing trade, and, while still in her teens, became a Trade Union organiser. Nancy had been crippled for some time with arthritis — though no-one could have borne it with less complaint or more cheerfully — but her sight and hearing remained excellent, and her mental powers were unimpaired. Only a week before her death she was discussing an article in the Socialist Standard, every issue of which she looked forward to and read. Shortly before she died she said — uncharacteristically — that she felt very tired; a few days later the end came quite peacefully and without pain.

Action Replay: From Ashes to Ashes (2015)

The Action Replay Column from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first Australian cricket team to tour England was in 1868. It was made up entirely of Aborigines selected from western Victoria and coached by Tom Willis (the founder of Australian football).

The colonial view was that involving the indigenous population in sports created a kind of imperial glue that wedded the natives to their new British identity.

Despite an onerous schedule, and having no history in the game and playing in a foreign culture, the team managed 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws.

The Ashes originates later, from a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, immediately after a White Australian team’s victory at the Oval in 1882.

The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and ‘the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.’ The mythical ashes immediately became associated with the 1882–83 series played in Australia, before which the English captain Ivo Bligh had vowed to ‘regain those ashes.’ The English press dubbed the tour ‘the quest to regain the Ashes.’

It has stuck ever since. In winning the fourth test at Trent Bridge by an innings and 78 runs at the beginning of August, England regained the Ashes from a below par Australian side. The standout moment of the whole series was the dismissal there of the Aussies in the first innings for a paltry 60 runs with Stuart Broad taking 8 wickets for 15 runs. The Australian fans were shell shocked into silence while the English supporters were ecstatic.

This was regarded as a national disaster in Australia where support for the national cricket team has become a glue to wed the population to their new postcolonial identity. The Australian captain, Michael Clarke, had to fall on his sword, like the leader of a political party which loses an election. Which is appropriate since the job of captaining the Australian cricket team is commonly regarded down under as more important than that of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Nowadays few Aborigines play cricket. Rugby and Aussie Rules football are more popular.

Glasgow: New slums for old (1962)

From the May 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Glasgow recently, the press gave a great deal of publicity to the collapse of a tenement in the Gorbals. Photographs of this victim of old age and disrepair were spectacular, showing one side of the building minus a wall and exposing a rabbit warren interior where the tenants lived, ate and slept. To the newspapers it was a one-day sensation. To the Socialist it was something much more.

Glasgow Corporation's publication Industry on the Move (January, 1959),  has this to say about the nightmare living conditions of workers in the city:
There are over 80,000 people living at more than three persons to a room.
And dealing with certain parts of Glasgow:
These central districts home more than half a million people. In these areas most of the people have to share toilet facilities; only one house in five has an an internal water closet—and few of the houses have a bath.
The promise of better housing for the working class was, of course, in the programmes of all the reformist parties in the recent municipal election. Indeed, the last Labour-controlled council had the audacity to boast of their record and point to the new housing schemes on the city outskirts and their "overspill" programme, as solutions to the workers' plight.

"Overspill" is a scheme to get Glasgow workers housed in another town. It is proving far from popular, even among the desperate, as it sometimes involves moving great distances, and suitable jobs are not always available in the new areas.

A sorry commentary on the housing schemes in the outskirts can be found almost daily in the Glasgow newspapers, in the forms of warrant sales. These are sales of household effects of workers hopelessly in debt. Many of them are in the homes of workers who live on the new housing estates and it is not hard to understand why. Although these houses are superior to the slums (it would be difficult for them to be inferior), the rent is almost invariably higher. This, coupled with the increase expense of travelling to and from work, lands many workers in the position of seeing their sticks of furniture compulsorily sold. In a single day recently in Drumchapel, there were five warrant sales in one street.

To those who have lived in a single room, the change to a three or four roomed dwelling with interior water closet and bath must seem like Utopia. But when you consider that such places were built mainly of the cheapest possible materials, it does not take much imagination to recognise them as the slums of the not-too-distant future. Already, peeling plaster, shrunken doors and badly made window frames bear silent witness to the shoddiness of production for profit.

And the grim irony of it all is that a physical shortage of houses does not exist in Glasgow. Like so many problems confronting Glaswegians and their brothers elsewhere, it is really one of poverty—the sheer inability to afford a decent place to live in. How then can this problem be solved within the present social set-up? The answer is a simple one. It cannot.

But this is not something which our Tory, Labour and other opponents are telling workers during the current local elections. They can be safely trusted to carry on flying in the face of fact and promising to remedy this evil which is as old as Capitalism itself. It is left to the Socialist candidate contesting North Kelvin Ward to point out the unpalatable truth and to give the only answer, Socialism.

Editorial: Back to the 70s? (2015)

Editorial from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago, the Labour Party agreed on a new version of Clause IV of its constitution which removed the reference to the ‘common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange’ (see this issue, page ten). This was hailed as the moment when the Labour Party abandoned its commitment to ‘socialism’, or rather to wholesale nationalisation. This decision was arrived at after suffering four electoral defeats at the hands of the Conservatives, who had successfully pursued free market policies. Thus the Labour Government from 1997 to 2010, introduced policies which were not radically different from those of the Tories.

Yet the unexpected front runner for the current Labour leadership contest is Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, who calls himself a socialist and pledges to end austerity by measures such as raising taxes for the rich, including corporation tax, tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion and introducing a ‘People's Quantitative Easing’, where electronic money would be created by the Bank of England to be invested in ‘new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects’. He would also bring the railways and the energy companies back into State ownership.

How did he get to this position? Aside from some Trotskyists and Conservatives who have exploited a new rule that entitles non-Party members to vote in the Leadership election provided they register as supporters of Labour, most of his support comes from grass roots Labour supporters and others, many of them young people, who have had enough of the effects of austerity, the decline in the standard of living for many workers, the proliferation of food banks, while on the other hand, the rich continue to enjoy rising prosperity. Moreover, Corbyn is seen as being honest and principled, whereas the other three candidates come across as supine mouthpieces of a Labour establishment that supports the current consensus on austerity. 

In a BBC news article, Corbyn says, in response to accusations that he wants to take the Party back to the 1980s, that he'd go back to the 1970s Labour government. In 1974 the new Labour Government declared that they wish to ‘bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families.’ This was to be achieved by increasing spending on pensions and other benefits, extending state ownership and tax rises on the better off. However, capitalism was hit by a recession which resulted in a sharp rise of unemployment. Inflation was rising rapidly. The government had to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund, and was compelled to implement a programme of spending cuts. James Callaghan, the Prime Minister at the time, came to this conclusion at the Labour Party Annual Conference in 1976:
‘We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.’
Jeremy Corbyn will have no more success in trying to reform capitalism in the interests of the working class. Production under capitalism is geared towards profits, not human need. Corbyn's proposed tax rises would cut into profits and discourage investment. Even his proposed people's quantitative easing is likely to fuel inflation, which would put pressure on interest rates to rise.

While we welcome that more people are becoming politically engaged and are looking for alternatives, it would be a mistake to follow Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, otherwise we may well end up back in the 1970s, rather than moving forward to abolish capitalism and establish real socialism.