Sunday, November 8, 2015

Greasy Pole: Thug in Suede Shoes (2005)

The Greasy Pole Column from the October 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Anyone who feels a need to penetrate the Conservative mind should steel themselves to read the letters page of the Daily Telegraph, which is now in the throes of what might be called a debate about the respective appeals of the candidates for the party leadership. A most treasured recent example was a missive, apparently intended to wind up the discussion: “My mother told me never to trust a man who wore suede shoes. Does this advice still hold good?” It would not have needed a particularly sharp mind among the Tory activists to work out that this referred to Kenneth Clarke, who is infamous for, among other things (of which more later), wearing Hush Puppies in preference to the politicians’ required footwear of sober, lace-up black shoes. Asked about this highly sensitive matter some years ago, Clarke responded in characteristic style: “The shoes are an act of defiance, because people began to be rude about them and if anything I began wearing suede shoes more often because I was getting advised to stop wearing them”. He did not say whether he had also received advice to stop smoking large cigars and to do something about his rumpled clothes and his reputation, which he assiduously cultivates, as an arrogant and insensitive political thug.
Clarke was at Cambridge with a clutch of aspirant Tory politicians who developed into bitter rivals – Selwyn Gummer, Leon Brittan, Norman Lamont (who Clarke replaced, in the high spot of his career to date, as Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Michael Howard, who now stands between Clarke and the Tory leadership. Before getting into Parliament for Rushcliffe, Clarke fought two elections in the hopeless constituency of Mansfield. In keeping with his self-promoted image as someone who enjoyed a fight, after the first election he promised the Mansfied Tories that he would stay on to contest the seat again. The fact that he was more or less honour bound to do this did not prevent him casting about for another, safer seat. He tried for Edgbaston but the local party preferred Jill Knight; Clarke kept his two-timing a secret and posed as a man whose word was his bond.
When he got into the Commons he commenced an unusually smooth journey up the greasy pole, through minor jobs in the 1980s in the Department of Health, Minister for Employment, Secretary of State for Health, then for Education. He was promoted to Home Secretary in 1992 and, at his peak after the fall of Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1993 until the Tories were beaten in the 1997 election. At that time the British economy was emerging from the slump which had seen something like three million unemployed. Clarke’s coincident period at the Treasury enabled him to claim to have designed the alleged economic recovery. This is a common ruse among Chancellors of the Exchequer: in a boom they claim the credit for the easier times while in a slump they blame pressures which were out of their control.
During all this time Clarke’s aggressive and dismissive manner ensured that the enemies a politician normally accrues would in his case have a particular edge to their enmity. While he was at the Department of Health he riled the doctors with his plans to impose new contracts of employment on them; faced with their resistance he described them as “in the last resort a pretty ruthless lobby”. In 1982 he dismissed the nurses’ objections to NHS staff cuts with the sneer that “They are a trade union and they don’t like the idea of their membership going down at all” (which is true about the Conservatives and any other capitalist party). He infuriated the ambulance crews (as well as substantial numbers of the voters) with his response to their claim for a rise in excess of the 6.5 per cent on offer: “The vast majority of ambulance staff are professional drivers, a worthwhile job – but not exceptional at all” (so who would anyone knocked down on the road prefer to see coming to help them – an ambulance crew or Kenneth Clarke?). This arrogance was too much for even the normally supportive Daily Express: “Whatever happened to caring Ken? Instead of the matey, jolly fellow once known to colleagues and public we now have a truculent, bad-tempered bully”. Thatcher was no more help to her beleaguered minister; at Prime Minister’s Question Time she pointedly avoided agreeing with Clarke about the ambulance crews.
The teachers were another group to fall victim to Clarke’s aggression. The changes in schooling introduced by Kenneth Baker in 1998, which had resulted in schools being swamped with minutely detailed instructions on what they should teach, how they should teach it and how they should report on it, had provoked years of hostility between them and the government. To call the situation chaotic hardly did it justice. Clarke arrived at the Department of Education to restore some sort of order, which he started to do in a manner customary to someone described by Thatcher when she moved him to Education, as “an energetic and persuasive bruiser, very useful in a brawl or an election”. But Clarke’s lack of finesse undid him; in a magazine interview, subsequently picked up by the Daily Mirror, he said that private schools provided a higher standard of education than state schools. Reminded of this comment in a Commons debate by Jack Straw, Clarke intervened with the opinion that the Mirror was a newspaper “read by morons”. The Mirror’s response was immediate and crushing. “That’s two fingers to 8,230,000 voters, Minister” it bellowed and the day after that it ran a telephone poll to establish how its readers rated their Minister of Education – was he a prat or a moron? “Kenneth Clarke was voted a total PRAT last night as 59,000 Daily Mirror readers took part in one of the most fiercely fought elections for years” it crowed, with an unflattering photograph of Clarke as a bully who smoked too much and, at 16st. 9lbs, was unhealthily obese.
Michael Heseltine said of Clarke: “He is what he is. You get what you see. And people like that.” But what people do not “like” is a politician who rubbishes genuine problems or who regards truth as something to be fashioned in accordance with their needs at any time. In 1980 the American pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly launched a new wonder drug – Opren – on the market, claiming that among a clutch of beneficial effects it could reduce arthritis pain. In fact Opren had serious side effects such as liver jaundice, kidney damage and excessive sensitivity to sunlight. There were 76 deaths attributed to the drug, which was later suspended by the Committee on Safety of Medicines. At the time Clarke was Minister for Health. His reaction to the suffering caused by Opren was to sneer that it was “no more than the patients becoming lobstered”. After their crushing defeat in 1997, the Tory party set about electing a new leader. Clarke knew that his views on many issues, especially Europe, would not endear him to the party faithful. (The Daily Telegraph damned him as “the candidate of the past”). In an effort to attract the votes of the right wing, anti-Europe membership Clarke cobbled up a partnership with the weird Eurosceptic John Redwood – a U-turn too cynical for even the most hardened Tory MP. Now he is again bending what he calls his principles, saying that Europe is not now on the agenda and that his enthusiasm for it is “no longer as constant as the North Star”.
Politicians, like salespeople, come in many shapes and styles. Some are reticent and conciliatory. Others are brash, brutal and noisy. Nobody should be impressed by Kenneth Clarke’s pose as the man for the people – matey, frank, reliable and human, if engagingly boozy. He has shown himself to be as calculating and dishonest as all the others. There is no more to be hoped for from him, the candidate of the past, than there is from those of the future.

Marxist populariser (1988)

Book Review from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Kautsky, by Dick Geary, Manchester University Press

This book on Kautsky, in the Manchester University Press "Lives of the Left" series, is a useful and well-balanced discussion of the ideas, though not the life (but who cares?), of the person who, after the death of Engels in 1895, became the best-known populariser of Marx's ideas. The first three pamphlets, published by the Socialist Party in 1906 and 1908, were in fact a serialisation of the theoretical introduction Kautsky wrote to the programme adopted by the German Social Democratic Party at its Erfurt Congress in 1891. (Curiously, reference to these pamphlets is not made in the bibliography Geary gives of Kautsky's works available in English).

As a populariser of Marx's ideas Kautsky was good, and many members of the Socialist Party learned about Marx's ideas through reading Kautsky's Economic Doctrines of Marx and Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History as well as Kautsky's own application of the materialist conception of history in his Origins of Christianity and Thomas More. His politics were another matter, on which we were in fundamental disagreement with him. As an orthodox German Social Democrat he defended that party's usage of revolutionary marxist phraseology while engaging in reformist practice.

After the First World War Kautsky acquired a bad reputation amongst those who considered themselves Marxists. This was because he had opposed the Bolsheviks seizure of power in Russia in November 1917, for which he was denounced as a "renegade" by Lenin. But, amongst real socialists, to be denounced by Lenin was a good recommendation and in fact Kautsky's Dictatorship of the Proletariat shows a much better understanding of Marx's views on democracy and socialism than did anything Lenin ever wrote. In spite of his reformism, Kautsky understood that the Bolsheviks were establishing a dictatorship over the proletariat and were heading for state capitalism not socialism.

Geary discusses Kautsky's views on this point as well as on Bernstein's revisionism, the mass strike and imperialism and provides a good short introduction to the theoretical issues that concerned pre-First World War Social Democracy from which, after all, the Socialist Party was an early breakaway.
Adam Buick

Consumerism (2015)

From the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
If you have the money you can buy anything; from a can of baked beans to a Pacific island. But what does such ‘ownership’ signify? The right to define the future (immediate or indefinite) of what is purchased - the right to ‘consume’. This relationship between humanity and the world humans created is the vital illusory component that sustains capitalism. Who or what gives anyone the right to consume that which is produced by another? It is as if those who produce do not exist, or rather, only exist to facilitate the relationship between product and consumer. That most consumers are also producers is entirely overlooked in terms of the ownership of what is produced. When workers walk out of the workplace they are immediately transformed into consumers surrounded by a seemingly limitless cornucopia of potential acquisition. They are confronted by the alienated fruits of their own labour; stolen from them by the use of the confidence trick called wage labour. Not only have they paid (labour) to create the products but they now are obliged to pay again (money) to retrieve them.
Regulated theft
There is no point in attempting to formulate and trace the economic origins of ‘private property’ since this is merely the history of regulated theft of which capitalism is the latest manifestation. The astonishing fact is that we live in a culture where those who do not produce own everything and those who do produce own almost nothing. Most are only vaguely aware of this and will shrug with a phrase similar to: ’it’s always been like that’. If there is  such a thing as ‘human nature’ then it is defined culturally and we can legitimately ask: what kind of being has consumerism produced? Is he/she content and happy? This question has to be rhetorical because we all know the answer. What then are the consequences of the internalisation of consumer culture on our relationships with others, and crucially, with ourselves?
The concept of the ownership of something you did not produce is irrational. That the decision of the fate of something that is made belongs to the producer is infinitely more sustainable both rationally and morally. To enter into a ‘contract’ that enables another to decide the future of what you have produced can only be the result of an unequal power relationship; and as such it has no moral integrity. To bring something into existence is surely the only rational base for its ownership. It follows that if, as now, most commodities are socially produced then they should be owned socially. The basis of consumerism is to break that link completely; as if the children belong, not to the parents, but to the owners of the hospital and medication that facilitated the birth.
Paradoxically, and in an inversion of this absurdity, the concept that parents ‘own’ their children is a direct consequence of the internalisation of consumerism. From our inception we feel owned and as a consequence we seek ownership as validation of status. The emotional and financial expenditure of parents leads many to assume the rights of ownership in terms of the determination of their children’s values and their right to, and type of, happiness.
Adult relationships tend to be a replay of this where the ‘beloved’ within an exclusive relationship is ‘owned’ by their partner. A glance at any dating web site will leave you in no doubt that what is being offered is a consumer choice of another who will ‘complete you and give meaning to your life’. The child or the partner is conceived of as an accessory for a successful lifestyle. Like a flashy sports car others become an extension of the ego. And these are people we love; pity those who serve us in restaurants or on checkouts in supermarkets if they are tardy in their duties. Having paid our hard earned cash, god help anyone who frustrates the ownership of the service or product we anticipate.
Everybody’s possession
Someone once asked me: 'Would I have to give my record collection to the people after the revolution?’ Obviously this is a rather crude interpretation of a property-less culture since it conflates property with products; the former being defined as the means of social production and the latter being the commodities consumed. But it does illustrate the paradox of ‘owning music’. We are all aware of the dramatic changes to the technology that mediates the arts. Our record collections are now replaced by ‘iTunes’ and ‘clouds’ that store our favourite melodies. We acquire this music through the internet in a variety of ways, many of which are devoid of conventional payment and the subsequent ownership that defines old fashioned consumerism. The parasite class are furious about this loss of revenue but, in their and our absence as the owner, who should define the fate of a recording? Does it become the ‘intellectual property’ of the musicians who made it? As was said earlier the only rational owner of anything is its creator. But once the decision is made to release music onto the internet those concerned realise it becomes the potential property of everybody – and, therefore, nobody. 
Music could be finally returning to its creators – humanity. Those who have the talent to sing will sing, those who can play instruments will play them and those who like to listen will rock. No middleman can stamp his ownership on something as natural to humans as music. Such is the fate of the absurdity of the concept of ownership and consumerism. Technology, so long our master, has rescued us from our enslavement to it by helping to liberate our humanity – the need to transform the world in our work. But the dire warnings of our masters concerning ‘piracy’ and the immorality of not creating profits for them and ‘the economy’ still resonates in the ears of many. Capitalism cannot help but create its own demise and it is our duty (and pleasure) to point this out to the working class using such examples as the above. To quote John Lennon: ‘Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it.’

Obituary:Jack Bradley (2010)

Obituary from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to announce the death of Jack Bradley, aged 85, at his home on 7 November.

Jack joined the party in 1949. Before that he had come across the works of Marx and Engels, not as you might expect in the bookshops in Charing Cross Road in London, but whilst serving with the RAF in India towards the end of World War Two. He used to recall how British troops in India were incensed when at the end of the war they were told that strong armed forces would have to be maintained to fight the next war.

Like many of his generation he was expecting great things from the new Labour government and joined the Labour Party, but he was particularly disappointed to learn that the former owners of the newly-nationalised industries were not being given one-off payments, but rather government bonds, which didn’t change their privileged positions.

Jack was an active member until a few years ago, particularly in publicity where he favoured emphasising the “one world” nature of socialism. The dangers of nuclear weapons was one of his special interests. In 1954 when the Japanese tuna fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon 5) was contaminated by nuclear fallout from a US atom bomb test in 1954, Jack and other members of the then Wood Green & Hornsey Branch wrote to the local paper of the nearest town to the incident offering their sympathy. Residents wrote to the Hornsey Journal to thank the branch for their letter. The editor, however, unjustly suspected some sort of put-up job and only made a guarded reference to the matter.

He always kept his eyes open for political ideas which were close to ours like those of the French ex-Trotskyists of Socialisme ou Barbarie and the German ex-Trotskyists of Contemporary Issues, alerting other members that these had come round to the view that Russia was state-capitalist. Murray Bookchin (under various pseudonyms) was associated with this latter group for a time and Jack circulated his articles on how capitalism was destroying the world’s ecology long before the Green Party was heard of. He himself liked to describe socialism as “one green world”.

He was a collector of books and pamphlets on socialism and related subjects, and had several rooms full of them. He also amassed a collection of leaflets and documents of leftwing political organisations, some of which they might have preferred to forget. He did considerable research to see if the 17th century communist Gerrard Winstanley could have had any knowledge of Thomas More’s Utopia via the publisher of a contemporary re-edition of its English translation. Unfortunately none of this original research was ever published.

He didn’t fly aircraft when he was in the RAF, but in later years he obtained a pilot’s licence for light aircraft—he had contempt for airliners, describing them as “flying computers”.

Until a few years ago, he was a regular attendee at Enfield & Haringey branch meetings, but because of his slight build and age, he began to feel more and more apprehensive about venturing out at night, although he would still attend when he was able to get a lift from a member. His last job was for Westminster Council where he became a night duty officer.

We offer our condolences to his daughter, Alyson.
Julian Vein

The Socialist Movement in Bulgaria. (1905)

From the October 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

[The following facts are extracted from a long letter, written in Esperanto, which has been received from Comrade P. Petrov, of Tambol, and should be interesting in view of recent developments in this country.]

Industrially, Bulgaria is where Britain was 100 years ago, but slowly, nevertheless most certainly, capitalism penetrates and will continue to penetrate into the land. After the country's liberation from Turkish rule it commenced to shape like the Western European states; its government, its army, its political and economic life commenced to take an entirely new form and direction. European news, and news of European Socialism were spread throughout the land. But because production was still in the hands of the small middle-class, because the ordinary labourer did not exist as in England, the labour movement was entirely weak, and in no way Socialistic. 

From 1894 there has existed a Social Democratic Party, but at the commencement the members were principally of the middle-class. The majority of the party consisted of merchants and small proprietors. During the years 1898 to 1901 there was an economic crisis, which greatly affected the merchants, small proprietors and agriculturists, who then began to doubt the capability of the different bourgeois parties, who were politically dominant, and to look with a favorable eye to the Socialists, thinking that they (the Socialists) might improve their adversely affected condition. At that time the Socialists were exceedingly active amongst the people, but in their propaganda paid more attention to the minimum program of the Social Democratic Party than to the maximum, and they succeeded in sending 7 deputies to Parliament. But the success was not lasting. In the following years the crop was exceedingly good and the economic position improved. Discontent subsided and the majority of the middle-class members left the ranks of the party. Then some of the Socialists began to advocate a middle course. They doubted whether capitalism would spread over Bulgaria, and, desiring immediate success, they, little by little, fell away from Socialist principles and advocated strenuously, "One common cause amongst the producing corporations." Then commenced a battle amongst the Socialists themselves. Some desired to remain true to the party principles, especially on the question of the Class War. Others wished to make "Labour Compromises," and in March, 1903 the party divided into two sections, one wishing to work specially amongst the laborers, whilst not ignoring the lower middle-class, who were being gradually forced into the ranks of the laborers, and always holding to the class war, and the other dreaming about the common cause between the producing corporations, and advocating compromises. To the first came all true and conscious Socialists, to the other a few workmen, sincere, but led astray. And thus were formed two Socialist sections, acting as independent parties. But it was soon remarked that the second section was acting as an enemy of the Labour Movement and of Socialism ! Because the first section worked amongst a smaller circle and severely held to the principles of scientific Socialism, they were named "narrow Socialists" ("Impossiblists"), and the others were named "broad Socialists" or "common-causers" "opportunists."

The “narrowers" assured of the economic development in the future, knowing that capitalism was spreading and would continue to spread, commenced a quiet but continuous and fruitful policy of educating the workers in their class interests. Many workmen's societies, enlightened and instructed, and syndicates (trade unions) soon sprang up, in which a strong propaganda was conducted, aiming at the creation of sound, conscious and capable fighters, worthy to be enrolled under the Red Flag, and shoulder to shoulder, to defend their class, and together with tlie proletariat of the whole world. to organise for the establishment of the Socialist Republic. In a short time the members of the party, and of the separate societies, greatly increased.

Meanwhile, the enemies of the workers, the "broad" Socialists, preached and still preach to the workers organised in trade unions "neutrality," i.e.. no political action by the unions. They wish the unions to see nothing but their direct trade interests, to fight only on the economic field. The "narrow" Socialists, on the other hand, preach that the workers must also fight the capitalists politically, and of course must come to the Socialist party, which alone in Bulgaria defends the class interests of the workers. They say, always and everywhere, that the economic and political battles are the two foundations of the class war.

The "broad" "ex-Socialists" as the "narrow" ones term them, pursue a policy which is entirely contrary to the principles handed down to us by our great first instructors, Marx and Engels. They are like the Bernsteinianers in Germany, the Jauresists in France (previous to their union with the Guesdists) and the Turatists in Italv. A few trade unions are under their influence, but their number ever declines. They cannot even conduct a strike !

The "narrowers" have a good Socialist literature. Their chief organ, "Workers' Gazette" appears twice weekly, and is also the official organ of the trade unions. The "New Time" is a monthly review, and there are many others. The "broad ones" also issue a journal twice weekly — "The Workers' Battle". They also issued a review — "The Common Cause," but this has ceased. They make full use of the literature and translations of the "narrows."

In Tambol, whence our comrade writes and where he lives, there is a Workers' Instruction Society, which aims at preparing members for the party. They thoroughly study Socialism, and when by their action and consciousness they prove that they understand it, and not till then, they are admitted to the ranks of the active Socialists.

The Party Congress took place in August, and amongst other things it was decided that in future no one should have the right to issue any gazette or review, unless the Party gave permission. The question of the unity of the Bulgarian Socialists, arising out of the Amsterdam resolution, occupied attention, but it was decided that as the "broad" Socialists are not really Socialists, that instead of helping the coming of scientific Socialism, they hindered it, no union could take place, but every true friend of Socialism was called upon to enrol under the red flag of the genuine Socialist Party, those who would he termed in Britain, the "Impossiblists."  
J. K.