Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sting in the Tail: Force and Revolution (1990)

The Sting in the Tail Column from the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Force and Revolution
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the defeat of capitalism " . . . can be achieved only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions".

Generations of left-wingers have claimed this is proof that Marx and Engels advocated armed insurrection, smashing state power, etc.

Of course they did no such thing. Instead they urged workers "to win the battle of democracy" in order to control state power and thus secure the socialist revolution.

Left-wingers have ignored the fact that "force" doesn't only mean violence but has economic and political meanings too.

For example, workers are "forced" by economic need to work for wages: More to the point, almost all of Eastern Europe's dictatorships were ousted by political force and without any violence being used. This "force" was the determination of the people to get rid of a system they detested and is in line with the "forcible overthrow" envisaged by Marx and Engels.

Economics of Health
How splendid is the claim of Kenneth Clarke, Health Secretary, that under his White Paper no patients will be refused the medicine they need.

This is, of course, a downright lie. There is a drug called erythropoetin that can transform the life of those suffering kidney failure. A thousand patients are being denied the drug because it is so expensive. It costs between £3,000 and £5,000 per patient per year.

Of the 1,500 who would benefit from it, only 500 are receiving it. The doctors have to refuse the treatment to the other 1,000 sufferers, because it is too expensive for the NHS.

Commenting on this, Dr. Stephen Waldeck, consultant renal physician at Hope Hospital, Salford said:
It is extremely frustrating for doctors and nurses, having seen how much better that little ampoule can make the patients to have to refuse it.
It is also frustrating, doctor, to see workers suffering unnecessarily while bare-faced liars like Clarke get away with their empty political boasts.

Love's Young Dream
It is not often that any worker will find anything of interest in Harper's and Queen magazine. It is a snobby magazine aimed at the parasites who own this country, but have been woefully short changed in the brains department.

But there was an interesting little item in a recent issue about the 20 richest women in Europe. It comes as no surprise to learn that Queen Elizabeth tops the list, with a personal fortune of £5,300 million. She was way ahead of her nearest rival Queen Beatrix of Netherlands, who had a mere £3,800 million.

But this wealth accumulation is not the exclusive domain of royals. It was heartening to see that a former member of the working class had managed to reach number 10 in the Rich Bitch Charts.

She is Janni Spies-Kjaer who has a personal fortune of £330 million. Not bad for a former lift-operator!

How did she manage this transformation? It seems that at 16 years of age she caught the eye of her 60 year old employer. Married him and a year later he died, leaving her his Scandinavian travel empire. Later she consoled herself by marrying a multi-millionaire.

Now £330 million is a tidy sum. Why, it could buy 66,000 treatments of erythropoetin!

The Nutty Professor
The new Tory "Libertarians" claim that they influence the government by "thinking the unthinkable: and setting out to deliberately shock.

Roger Scruton, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, has set out to shock us.
We must recuperate yet another Victorian value: that of child labour. Many a 14 year old, set to work as a builder's apprentice, an electrician's mate or a stable hand, will learn far more than he could ever learn at school, while acquiring independence, responsibility and self-respect. If the pay were sufficiently low - and children are willing to work for quite paltry sums -  there would be no lack of employers ready to offer it.
The Guardian 13 February.
So you see, child labour would really benefit the children: just look at all the things they would gain! Of course the "paltry sums" they might earn are purely incidental as are the extra profits employers would get.

Scruton's views that many children would "learn far more" if they left school at 14 is his unconscious verdict on the standard of working class education, and has he never wondered how the children of our masters manage to acquire "independence, responsibility and self-respect" without the advantage of child labour?

Anyone who thinks Scruton's obnoxious views are mere fantasy should remember that some previous libertarian fantasies are now law. Child labour is only one example of the kind of society they want and work for.

Oh No, Not That!
Can you imagine Kenny Dalglish complaining that fans are talking football or Bros being unhappy because youngster discuss pop music?

Of course not, but here's a politician who doesn't want people talking about politics. Tory MP John Stokes told a meeting of Tory MPs
People never talk about politics in the pubs. But now they are starting to. I regard this as a sinister sign.
Glasgow Herald 9 February.
It's easy to see why Stokes doesn't welcome this trend. Tory policies such as the Poll tax, high interest rates, etc., are highly unpopular and Stokes thinks that if politics is being discussed then so will those unpopular policies.

But maybe something much worse has dawned on Stokes: like the dread thought that workers who talk about politics might even start thinking for themselves.

Every would-be leader from "right wing" Tory to "vanguard" Leninist would find that very sinister indeed.

Letter to Tebbit
The Scorpion's Nest
1st April

Dear Norm,
We read how upset you were at at the BBC for describing those Russian hardliners who opposed Gorbie as "conservatives". You added:
Indeed, to my astonishment I find from the BBC that Stalin and Brezhnev were "conservatives" while poor ill-informed me, well, I had thought they were communists.
The Independent 22 February.
We know how you feel, Norm: haven't we in the Socialist Party fumed when the Labour Party is miscalled "socialist" or some dictatorship is dubbed "Marxist"? We even read, in your favourite rag, The Sun, about Nicaragua's awful "Marxist coffee".

But Norm, you've got a nerve to complain about others misusing words. You do it all the time! You're doing it when you say Stalin and Brezhnev were communists: what communist principle did they ever adhere to?

And at the last general election you were even describing the Liberal-SDP Alliance as "socialist", so you really shouldn't whinge when you get a taste of your own medicine. 

Tell Me Lies (2004)

Book Review from the February 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

David Miller ed: Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq. Pluto Press £12.99

This volume contains 32 contributions from a wide variety of writers, which naturally means few arguments are developed at length and there is some overlap. A number of the pieces have appeared before, such as John Pilger's articles in the New Statesman.

It is probably not a surprise to learn that the physical attack on Iraq was preceded, accompanied and followed by a massive propaganda war. There were the notorious claims about Iraq's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), claims which the mainstream media signally failed to expose as falsehoods. The view that Iraq constituted a threat to the rest of the world, largely by dint of having WMDs, was built up from at least 1997, despite the lack of real evidence for it. Even the CIA was pressured into producing reports that gave more support to the case for war.

Once the invasion had started, the propaganda machine went into overdrive, though under the more acceptable labels of “public diplomacy”' or “information support”. Both state and private media played their part; the BBC's Andrew Marr, for instance, reported that Baghdad had been captured “without a bloodbath”, despite the loss of thousands of civilian lives. The invasion force went to great lengths to ensure that only their perspective on the fighting was given proper airtime. Many reporters were stationed at the US Central Command in Qatar, where they could do little but listen to, and pass on, the official line as delivered in press conferences at which hostile or even sceptical questions were firmly discouraged.

A major development in this war was the use of “embedded” reporters, who travelled with invading forces, supposedly sharing the same dangers and so identifying with the soldiers they were accompanying. This inevitably meant that they toed the official line, often presenting a sanitised view of war, in which Iraqi casualties were minimised and all emphasis was put on the prospects for a successful (from the US-UK standpoint) outcome. In contrast were the so-called “unilateral” journalists, who were more independent, in some cases reporting from Baghdad while it was under attack. The US stressed the protection that they could offer to the “embeds”, while the unilaterals could enjoy no such advantages. In fact, two embedded American media workers were killed during the war, as were at least fifteen other journalists. In some cases, media centres and hotels housing reporters were bombed by US forces - probably intentionally, given that their positions and status were too well-known for all these incidents to be accidents.

Of course, there are other forms of government and ruling class influence on the media than naked physical threat. Many media bosses are themselves extremely wealthy capitalists (think of Rupert Murdoch), so their companies naturally present a pro-corporate power position. In the US, owners of radio stations supported the war as a thank you to the government for its deregulation of the radio industry, from which they'd benefited. The US media adopted a jingoistic attitude during the war, but the UK media were not quite that bad (and it is only fair to record that Channel 4 News was the most critical in its reporting).

The Iraq invasion was a media war in that many of the prominent public images of it were mere media stunts. Remembering the toppling of Saddam's statue? Well, it was American troops who pulled the statue down, and a few handpicked Iraqis were depicted rejoicing. In other cases, the reporting was noticeable for what was not said. Much attention was given to Iraqis looting museums and hospitals after the fall of Baghdad, but there was hardly any reference to the fact that US troops made sure that the Oil Ministry building, with its important records of oil exploration and so on, was made secure.

One good thing which emerges from the book is the way that ordinary people are becoming less and less prepared to swallow the lies emanating from governments and their propaganda machines.
Paul Bennett

Recent Times (2015)

Book Review from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Charlie Chaplin', by Peter Ackroyd. Vintage £7.99.
Charlie Chaplin was born in a South London slum in 1889. His childhood was extremely impoverished, including spells in a workhouse, and his first show-business job was as a clog dancer at the age of nine. He became an actor and stage performer, joined Fred Karno’s company and travelled to the US, where he made his first film in 1914. He survived the birth of talkies and became a director and independent film-maker. Already by 1915, according to Ackroyd, he was the most famous man in the world.

Chaplin was best known for his screen persona as the Tramp, the ‘little fellow’ who became a kind of universal symbol of failure and hopelessness. Some of his films were overtly political, such as The Great Dictator (1940), where he played Adenoid Hynkel. This applied in particular to Modern Times (1936), about factory life and the repetitive and dehumanising nature of the production line.
In the First World War, he decided to stay in the US rather than return to the UK and risk being conscripted; people sent him envelopes with white feathers in, and some British cinemas stopped showing his films. During the Second World War, he made remarks supporting the ‘Soviet Union’ as a wartime ally, and also expressed some admiration for Stalin. Together with the implied message of Modern Times, this led in the late 1940s to trouble with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Some thought it suspicious that he had lived in the US for thirty years without becoming a US citizen, and in 1952, as he and his family sailed to Britain, his permit to re-enter the US was withdrawn (though he was later allowed to visit). For some discussion of his political views, see www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein/chaplin/commie.html.
Ackroyd describes Chaplin as ‘a libertarian with tendencies towards anarchism’. But this is hardly compatible with his authoritarian approach to directing, his support for President Roosevelt, and his chauvinistic attitude to women. He also accepted a knighthood and was very concerned to protect his US-based property and investments. Though he was hardly consistent, he is perhaps best seen as someone who, looking back at his impoverished childhood, identified with the poor and downtrodden, but had no ideas about restructuring or even reforming society. Claims about him being a ‘Communist’ say more about the hysteria prevalent in some circles in the US than about Chaplin himself.  
Paul Bennett

Tony Benn: a political con-man (1981)

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even if capitalism was administered by politicians who were all selfless and honest men and women, it would make little or no difference. The evils of poverty, unemployment, war—the list is endless—are an integral part of capitalism and will not be removed until the system itself is removed. Which itself can only happen when the working class decides to do its own thinking instead of hiring out its minds to leaders. Good leaders or bad leaders—it doesn't matter.

There is, unfortunately, no sign yet that the working class is ready to stop putting its faith in leaders and it remains an endless source of wonder that they can go on, generation after generation trusting shepherds who lead them from one morass to another. How is it possible that workers could even expect people like Wilson or Callaghan to solve their problems for them? And having realised after the "winter of discontent" that the Labour government was doing them no good at all, how could they possibly think that Margaret Thatcher would be able to do other than what she has done? There now seems to be a possibility that the next miracle worker the electorate will appoint to run British capitalism will be A. Wedgwood Benn. He cut the Wedgwood part from his name to lend a spurious working-class aroma to his stock-in-trade, while carefully retaining the capitalist wealth that the name implies. It might be instructive, therefore, to look at the slogans used by this men to lever himself to the top of the Labour Party—slogans which will presumably form the so-called left-wing programme on which the workers will in due course be asked to vote.

In a report in the Guardian (2/2/81), we are told that Benn advocates five priorities for the next Labour government. It is important first to remark that one "priority" is bound to be missing: socialism. And yet, as he calls himself a socialist, one would suppose this should be the sole priority. What else should a socialist want to introduce other than socialism? What is the point of being a socialist otherwise? If you think that socialism is the answer to the problems of society, then surely the establishment of such a system in the place of capitalism must be the object of obtaining power. If you don't think that, then you are clearly a fraud of the most impudent kind. Nobody will be surprised to learn that Benn's five points make no reference whatever to socialism. And the sad thing is that this slight omission will not even be noticed by the working class in general or even by the leftists Militant faction in the Labour Party who are lending such vociferous support to Benn and denying the right to call themselves socialists to such as Shirley Williams and David Owen (well they're right about that last bit, at least).

First of the five priorities is "the restoration of full employment". Merely to state this shows the utter contempt this would-be leader has for the working class. He takes it for granted that they are too stupid to see that the very inclusion of the word "restore" is itself a piece of chicanery. How can you restore something that never existed in the first place? Benn knows full well that the Labour government, of which he was a prominent member under both Wilson and Callaghan, not only presided over a large unemployment problem (which Thatcher inherited). He knows that under that government, unemployment actually doubled from the three-quarters of a million when the Heath Tories were removed from office to one and a half million when Callaghan was kicked out. The nerve of people like Benn and Foot to lead huge demonstrations denouncing unemployment can only mean that they assume the workers have no memory.

Next we have something called "expansion of public services". Whatever that might mean, it is clearly shown up as fraudulent by the cuts in social services which were a chief cause of discontent in that famous last winter of the Labour government. Thirdly, Benn regards it as important for the working class to support the idea of "withdrawal from the EEC". In fact the question of British capitalism being in, or out of, the EEC is of no consequence whatever to the working class.

So now we get to Priority Number Four. Benn wants unilateral nuclear disarmament. If one thing above all betrays the duplicity of the man (and of Foot and the rest of them) it is this, The Labour government of Attlee the Great was, after all, the one that made the decision to build their very own H Bomb. Then, when they were removed from office, all these lefties, Benn included, became supporters of CND and were to be heard screaming "Ban the Bomb!" They should have screamed "Ban the Bomb Which We Made" but perhaps that's too long for a slogan. However, in due course the pendulum swung and Labour, including Benn, was back in power. So they could ban the bomb, scrap Polaris, kick out the American bases and anything else that was needful to carry out their high-principled policy.

As everyone knows, they did nothing of the sort. The Labour government carried on where the Tories left off, voting vast sums on improving their H Bomb at a time when they said it was necessary to make cuts in hospital beds, school meals and the like—all the very things in fact which they now blame the Tories for. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say that Benn resigned from the Labour Party to show his contempt for this disgraceful dereliction of principle? And pigs might fly. Once again, he kept mum for the whole time his party was enjoying the sweets of office. But almost the very moment they were kicked out, he and his fellow tricksters were at it again. Ban the Bomb!

Last, and one hopes least, Benn wants to "strengthen democracy at all levels in society". It is not worth wasting much of the valuable space of this journal on worrying about what this vague claptrap can possibly mean. In a society based on two classes, the minority owning almost everything and the majority owning almost nothing, there is a clear limit to the amount of democracy that is possible. But if Benn now seeks power "for more democracy" (whether t means anything or nothing), surely he should face the obvious question: As you were in power for many years until quite recently, why did you not introduce this improved democracy? Why did you not resign if your governmental colleagues stopped you? Why did we never hear so much as a whisper about it during the whole period and yet the moment you are out of office you suddenly discover what has been missing?

Enough is enough. If the working class would behave like thinking human beings, instead of like sheep, then bogus shepherds like Benn would no longer be able to fleece them.
L. E. Weidberg