Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Future of the Family (1975)

From the February 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the reasons given by the Women’s Liberation movement for the continuation of capitalism is the odd notion that the system is held up by the family. If we could break up the “nuclear” family capitalism would collapse! A corollary to this idea is that life in communes would be much better for everyone.

It is not our purpose to give a detailed history of the family but we cannot look at the possible future pattern of family life without some comment on its past. The changes in the form of the family have in general corresponded to the main stages in human development. Group marriage was appropriate to early tribal society but with the gradual introduction of more marriage restrictions gave way to the pairing family of the lower-stage barbarians. Women still made an important contribution to the collective economy and were respected members of the community.

Men had been the hunters—not a suitable role for the childbearing sex. Later, as hunting gave way to stockbreeding, that too was a male responsibility. When the plough welded together cultivation and stockbreeding women were deprived of their monopoly over the cereal crops and their social status. The rise of private ownership meant the breakdown of the clan structure. The patriarch had to be sure that his herd or flock his wealth, passed to his sons. Hence monogamy—at least for women.

These broad changes have encompassed a wide range of marriage customs. Human progress has not proceeded at a uniform rate, practices observed being tempered by local tradition and social level. The strict seclusion of Greek wives in antiquity did not apply to poor countrywomen. In the more recent past, while marriages were arranged for the wealthy, a jump over the broomstick could suffice for railway navvies. The wives of rising merchants and industrialists might be little more than ornaments in their husbands homes; but for the working class long grueling hours spent in factories, or down mines, left little time or energy for aught but the simplest meal and sleep.

For centuries women were economically productive in the home. Now water comes from a tap. We can switch on heat and light and buy oven-ready food and factory-made clothes. Work, health, education, and recreation are all provided for outside the home. The functions left to the modern family are home care, sex and child rearing. Much of the dissatisfaction with the family stems from the limitations placed on women by their involvement with housework and child care. Part of the reason for this kind of objection is the money and status valuation which is applied to all work. Rearrange the family as you will, while capitalism lasts you will be bound by the restrictions imposed by economic necessity.

Even an immediate change to Socialism will leave the family much the same as it is now. The idea that we would all pack up and leave our present partners is laughable. In any case the Socialist revolution will make it possible to sort out the mess left by capitalism. It will not wave a magic wand to perfection. One certainty about those early years is that they will be busy.

However there will come a time when the world community is long accustomed to the common ownership and democratic control of the earth and its resources. About the kind of family group appropriate to those halcyon days we can only guess! Let us do just that.

We cannot see any reason why all aspects of present- day marriage must be thrown out. Because we personally reject some concepts does not mean that everyone else will share our ideas. The writer views with horror the suggestions by Bebel and others that the private kitchen will disappear and that there will be “public restaurants and central kitchens to which everybody may come to take their meals”. This may be your choice!

The lack of restrictions at an earlier stage of human development did not necessarily imply “an injudicious pell-mell intercourse”. (They were probably too busy looking for food!) Likewise freedom from legal and financial ties is unlikely to herald the end of long-term relationships. Individual men and women who feel a mutual attraction (love?) will live together and for so long as they both wish. We do not suggest that all such relationships will be for life or necessarily exclusive. However, personal relationships do entail responsibilities.

Families, or other groups, will not be filed away as separate units. People being integrated into the community, belonging to the community does not have to mean living cheek-by-jowl in an undifferentiated mass! Rather, a mixture of private and communal life in accordance with individual choice.

Whatever else about our behaviour may be the result of social conditioning, the childbearing role of the female sex is entirely due to natural causes. This role may not appeal to all women but even today, surprising as it may be to some, mothers actually enjoy caring for their babies. It is the combination of problems involved, coping with children alone, in bad housing conditions, with money worries, or simply trying to keep up with some impossible child care standards, which now erodes the pleasure from motherhood. Children thrive in a variety of conditions but they do need a fair amount of individual attention. Though parents will not regard their offspring as possessions born to them. They will certainly not have to do so in isolation nor need it be the sole occupation of women (or men).

Men and women will co-operate to fulfil the needs of Socialist society. Necessary work is likely to occupy fewer hours than it does for most people now. Work freed from the indignity of employment will not be seen as separate from leisure, or education, but as part of our total existence. All tasks necessary to human wellbeing will have equal status. There will just be jobs which need to be done whether inside or outside the home.

To make quite clear the social position that women will occupy, we must point out that every human being will have the equal right of free access to the abundant social produce. What possible motive would there be for any group to hold another in subjection?

Sadly, the exact form the family of the future will take must for the moment be left to the realms of conjecture. It is not the family as such which prevents the abolition of capitalism but a lack of Socialist understanding among its members. When an immense majority of working-class men and women are armed with that understanding, they will not hesitate to take the conscious political action necessary to end capitalism.

This is our immediate task. Posterity will then take care of itself.
Pat Deutz

History Lesson (1977)

Theatre Review from the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

State of Revolution” by Robert Bolt, at the Lyttelton Theatre.

“But, Comrade Lenin”, says Anatoly Lunacharsky, “that would not be Socialism—but a blind peasant revolt!”

In those few revealing words is summated the rest of the play, and the inevitable tragedy (and death) of Vladimir Ilyitch Ulianov=“Nikolai Lenin”. This play is a masterpiece, sticking consistently to facts and dramatically portraying the heroism of the Russian people against both Czarist and Bolshevik tyranny.

“We take the peasants’ corn, and when driving his pigs away, hand him a pamphlet, Which he cannot read”, says Lenin. There is the explanation, in a nutshell. The millions of peasants were not Socialists, and would not become Socialists before they were wage-workers.

Robert Bolt, whether aware of the Socialist Standard's estimate in 1917 of the Russian events or not, has amply confirmed what we said then: “There will be no Socialism in Russia.” His piece makes a magnificent history lesson.

For the only dramatic critic the play will have who actually heard Lenin, Trotsky and the rest in the Kremlin, the simulated Politbureau meetings without a table were somewhat comical.

Major is Right! (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spin doctors are a modern input into the political industry - and politics is now a vast and profitable industry offering a market to various commercial pimps and an assortment of professional liars.

The function of the spin doctor is to bamboozle the public. His or her main devices arc lies, falsification and concealment, together with truth, where it suits. In fact all the things that comprise the armoury of what is known, by those with a need to inform or hoodwink people, as ‘public relations’.

But spin doctors are the smart asses of public relations. Their function is to project a word or phrase, a ‘sound bite’, that absolves people of the need to think about a situation. Thus, ‘feel-good factor' becomes a lying short-cut through economic reality and ‘If it isn’t broken don't fix it’ becomes John Major’s way of telling us that everything is fine, there are no major social problems and therefore no need to spend time or money on repairs!

To support the argument that ‘it isn’t broken', Major and his fellow Tories tell us that the unemployment figures are coming down. In round figures, there are only about two million people now whose poverty is grossly aggravated by unemployment.

Opponents of the Tories quite rightly point out that these figures are unreliable, that since 1979 Conservative governments have manipulated the way unemployment statistics arc obtained more than twenty times in order to conceal the real numbers of unemployed. Additionally, the government now retains ministerial control over the Office of Central Statistics which facilitates the packaging of statistical information in a manner most useful to the government. There is too, the new ‘enterprise culture' in which selling hamburgers to one another has become a national industry. Millions of people are engaged in morale-breaking low-paid work, often part-time work, and many of those engaged in this low-paid work have to receive state support in order to live. Now, too, thousands of people working for the DHSS have to degrade themselves administering the infamous Job Seeker’s Allowance under the terms of which they are obliged to make life even more intolerable for the most impoverished section of society in order to drive them off the unemployment register.

In a Party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory Party, broadcast on the 13th February of this year, we were told that BMW management, along with many other European and Far Eastern industrial bigwigs favoured Britain for investment. The reason? Labour was cheaper in Britain and workers had fewer legal rights than they had in other EU countries. Older readers will remember the time establishment politicians used to tell us how lucky we were not to be working for a bowl of rice, unlike our fellow workers - whom the politicians called ‘our competitors’ - in other countries.

Last November, under the heading Living in the real world, this journal dealt with the appalling social problems in the United Kingdom - and, indeed, throughout the rest of the world. Billions, millions and hundreds of thousands, these are the terms that article used to tell readers the terrible statistics of destitution, death from hunger, poverty, homelessness and, of course the casualties of capitalism’s ongoing violence.

The statistics quoted in the Socialist Standard article were garnered from public sources and it is reasonable to suppose that the Prime Minister was aware of them when he was telling us that everything in the United Kingdom's garden was fine, that nothing required fixing. Undoubtedly, too, the news that the British Red Cross was distributing food parcels at Christmas to the poor in Britain for the first time in fifty years had come to his attention.

This might well indicate that Major is simply a complete idiot; that when he stands at the dispatch box in parliament cat-calling at Blair and his cohorts on the opposite side of the House and telling us about the changes Tory policy is making and that there’s a ‘feel-good factor’ just around the corner, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Unfortunately, we can very safely predict that if, as expected, Labour wins the next general election, it will be Blair who will be standing at the dispatch box defending the indefensible and claiming that Labour’s policies are working well for the nation. With equal certitude we can predict that a future Labour government - like the previous eight Labour governments this century - will fail utterly to remove even one of the basic problems that capitalism throws up.

Governments come, here and elsewhere: Conservative, labour. Liberal, ‘Socialist’, ‘Communist’, et al. And governments go, governments of every hue right across the globe and right across the political spectrum. But never, ever, has a government solved a single basic problem of capitalism!

That very obvious fact, that capitalism can not be made to function without the awful social problems which have attended it since it became the dominant form of social organisation, is the justification for our existence. To express our view with a ‘sound bite’, we might say that with capitalism what you see is what you get! Ironically, John Major is right when he claims that it isn't broken! Capitalism in the United Kingdom today is functioning in its normal manner, the way it has always functioned: poverty, unemployment, waste, destruction of the environment, homelessness, alienation, crime, violence and its foul military priorities, these are not problems of capitalism; if they were simply problems they could be solved. These are aspects of capitalism, natural and inevitable social responses to its nature; its uncontrollability, its anarchy of production and the competitive lust of its owning class for profit.

Capitalism was once the cruel medicine of social improvement but its benefits quickly evaporated and today it is a prison for the working class. It is a prison precisely because it holds sway over the thinking of the great mass of people through its educational system, its religious ideologies and its vital control of the media.

But it is an open prison which we can leave as soon as a majority has decided that it is a no-hope society politically and economically engineered to ensure the interests of a relatively small class of profit takers at terrible cost to humanity at large.
Richard Montague

Rebellious teenagers (1966)

From the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lawyer's bonanza in the shape of a Public Enquiry into the behaviour of sonic police officers . . . a murder trial . . . a Government Minister upsetting the apple-cart by making an unusually intelligent observation in connection with the Brown Plan. Pope Paul using Orange air-space . . .  all this against a background of the usual wars, threats of war and diplomatic hooliganism was fun for the press.

But its all old-hat as far as the public is concerned: the lawyers, the murders, the indiscretions of Ministers, the military butchery simply new names for old stories. A. day or two in the headlines and then the news gatherers must bestir themselves again in the jungles of capitalism to bring more news to a populace made news conscious by their constant nearness to “news" situations.

Hence, an enterprising newsman “discovers" bored teenagers congregating around the grounds of the Belfast City Hall on Sunday night. His newspaper complete with picture and news caption serves up the story and such is the excitement of life in these adventurous Sixties, the story catches on. More press comments, letters to the editor and. eager as the editors, statements from churchmen.

Controversy! Statements. quotes and the usual line up of "for" and "against", clergymen, especially, cast their nets in the murky waters of youthful boredom wisely offering "recreational facilities" instead of theological trinkets. On the Sunday evening following, then the bored teenagers are joined by more bored teenagers, bored policemen, boring churchmen and many who were bored teenagers between the two Big Wars.

If we listen in on Grandfather we'll find his boredom momentarily relieved by the mystery of it all. He will tell yon the modern teenager has everything—not like him when he was a youth! In his time they had to nuke their own amusement! “But now, why they spend millions on fancy suits, record players, even motor bikes and 'old bangers' and still . . . And they've no respect for anything and look what the Government's paying for their fancy education."

Of course there's no denying Grandpop's claims: the “modern" teenager gets more of what passes for education in capitalism than did his predecessors. He also has more money to spend and his "recreational" needs are, to use his own terms, “fabulously" well catered for. Yet he is shiftless, respectless and very often bored.

His "behaviour patterns" engage the attention of "experts" whose interests range from those of the churches, the police, the social worker and the multiple tailoring and recording industries He is examined and analysed as a social phenomenon, he is blessed. blamed, cajoled, threatened and exhorted. Generally he is unmoved, bored.

Bored with what? The simple "truths" of his father; with his "education", his religion, with politics, with work, the Law Authority. He is bored with the society that created him.

As far as the average working-class youngster is concerned he gets from society the measure of "education" that the “educationalists" of capitalism consider necessary to fit him most ably for the task of producing wealth for those who own the factories, distributive outlets, etc. In the past, where his father was concerned, the task was a relatively simple one: a little reading, writing and simple arithmetic were all that was required then of the average worker to fit him for the bench, warehouse or the office. Today, however, partly as the result of the last “Great" war, when productive techniques underwent vast technological change, and partly as the result of the workers improved bargaining position in the “trade war" succeeding the slaughter, the role of the worker in most industries has become more involved and complex. Hence the need for better trained school leavers.

But, while the capitalist state is prepared to invest heavily in apprenticeship school years it is not prepared to lose sight of its investment ratio. Some methods of selection, Eleven-plus or teacher selection, is used to determine the investment value of the pupil. The competitive bias is ever present, lauded as a virtue and prompted by teacher and parent with the promise, the threat, the misery.

The "failures" usually are left to their rejection and degradation; the "success" “rewarded" with increased struggle. By and large the average "successful" pupil, in the tender years of childhood, is confronted with a working week of greater effort and longer hours than his, or her, father.

The old street community games are seldom played now. Modern “working class" housing developments bear no evidence of goal posts or "wickets" painted on gable walls. Such games as Rally-O. Releavc-O (to give them their local names) and so on, are but by-gone relics of an age when the working class were at least allowed the luxury of childhood.

Of course, today, commercial interests cater to the youngsters "recreational" needs: the transistor radio, the record player and all the other paraphernalia of the “with it" youth—the symbols of affluence, of property consciousness. The prelude to the world of “things" where people have separate identities only on the work sheet or the Income Tax return.

Despite the purpose of the present school training system however (indeed, contrary to its purpose) the average working class youngster gets a better insight into the world he lives in than did his father. Again, the improved methods of communication, radio, television, etc., contracts time and space and exposes the world he lives in to his gaze.

The contradictions of the world have their effects on the forced-growth children: the poverty amidst plenty, the organised waste, the homes of the master class and the "dwellings" of the workers, the friend-enemy switches of “their” country and much more besides. And the “explanations", the facile chatter of the politicians, the bewilderment of clergymen, the double-talk of statesmen, judges, businessmen, trade-union leaden, etc.

This may be the stuff of eventual political understanding or,  as it tragically most often is, a fertile breeding ground for cynicism, hostility and boredom.

And the promise for the future? As with one voice from all the upholders of capitalism: More work, more production. more competition, more failures, more cynicism, more boredom, more “things”.

Unhappy teenagers: a frankenstein of capitalism, necessary to its buying, selling, competition, trade, machinations and yet containing in its make-up a rejection of capitalism's "more" values—cynical of the very foundations of society—capitalist society.

Well, indeed, may the powers of capitalism be disturbed. For the present the rebellious teenager can be dealt with by the muscles of authority, the police club, the judge and the jailor. If, however, the teenager found direction and purpose for his admirable qualities of discontent and rebellion he could become an unmanageable danger to capitalism and contribute much to its destruction.
Reprinted from the World Socialist Party of Ireland's journal—'Comment'.

Conservation with a deaf eye surgeon (1982)

A Short Story from the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s a long time since I’ve hail my eyes tested, the main reason being that I have no confidence in my ability to hold out against the standard opticians' con trick of no new lenses without new frames. In the end, however, I make the discovery that one eye is practically sightless, and being even more terrified of going blind than of being conned, I nerve myself and make an appointment.

The appointment is for 4.45: I’m kept waiting until almost 5.30. (Sublimate my anger by reminding myself that I might be going blind, or even have a brain tumour, and so can’t create a scene.)

The eye tester finally puts in an appearance. He is very old. After perfunctorily apologising for the delay, he informs me that he is not “a mere optician, you know”, but a real, bona-fide, fully-trained eye surgeon. Polite to a fault, 1 murmur that I will not hold it against him. The eye surgeon caps a hand to his car and barks “What?” I say that I am very pleased to hear it.

The actual eye testing is over in about five seconds flat. (I wonder how much they get paid for it. but remind myself that at least I don't appear to be going blind or have a brain tumour.) Before taking me out to meet the mere optician and be conned into buying new frames for my new lenses, the eye surgeon leans forward to peer at the party badge which I wear on my lapel. “What’s that?” he barks. “Socialist Workers’ Party?” (He is obviously short-sighted as well as deaf.) I correct him, in a loud bawl: “Socialist Party of Great Britain.” He peers closer to get at the small print. “World for the Workers, eh? So who are the workers?”

"You”. I shout, “and me”.

The eye surgeon doesn’t like this; he does not wish to be lumped with the rest of us as a mere worker. He informs me that he is a member of one of the higher professions. Still polite, I inquire of him (in the obligatory shout) whether he does not have to sell his labour power in order to survive? He catches but the one word: labour. Ten minutes later, when he has finished, I yell at him again. “Do you possess a private income that you can live on?” This question infuriates him even more. No. he does not possess a private income. He has had to work for his living. Why, there were times at the start of this career when he was working up to eighty hours a week.

I ask him, in that case, why he does not consider himself to be a worker? The answer, apparently, is that he is “an intellectual”. He tells me that I am talking to a “very intellectual type”. When he was in the army he was given a special test which proved that the higher echelons of the medical profession were amongst the world's intellectual elite. I refuse to be sidetracked. I ask him what point he is trying to make. For a moment, such is his intellectual power, he is at a loss; but after a few seconds comes back gamely with the contention that what he calls “the brains” of society must always be rewarded at a higher rate than what he calls “the rest”. I remind him that what we were discussing was whether or not he was a worker.

Mysteriously, at this juncture, he starts talking about Russia.

I give up on the class question. We talk about Russia, instead. Having disposed of the myth that Russia is in any way a “socialist country”, I go on to explain what socialism is all about. I yell at him about how common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution will mean the end of class exploitation. I bawl at him about how every human being will have free access to the social wealth. He suddenly cottons on: we are talking about a society without money. This is plainly an absurdity! “My dear young lady . . . how can you have a world without money?" We haven’t even got enough top medical men now (His words: his claim) so how on earth do I suppose we should have them in a society where they were not only not going to be paid more than other people, but weren’t even going to be paid at all?

I ask him whether, in such a society, he himself would still choose to be an eye surgeon? Or had he only become an eye surgeon for the money? Indignantly, he repudiates the suggestion: there are such things, my dear young lady, as ethics. So what makes him imagine, I shout, that in socialism we wouldn't have enough doctors? The answer comes back pat: it’s nothing to do with money, after all, it’s the simple lack of brain power. There isn’t enough brain power in the world to supply us with all the doctors we need. Doctors, he repeats, are “highly intellectual types”.

I resist the temptation to argue the point (he'll only start telling me again about the special test that “proved” it). Instead, I inform him that there is in the world a great deal of human potential which under a capitalist system is never allowed to be fulfilled; and that, moreover, in socialism a vast range of so-called “intellectual" activities necessary for the running of capitalism would be rendered obsolete, thus releasing large numbers of men and women to undertake far more socially beneficial tasks than they do at present.

To this-stumped, presumably, for any rational follow-up-the eye surgeon triumphantly informs me that 1 have not taken human nature into account. I ask him, in a bellow, what he conceives human nature to be. It seems that he conceives it as being something rather nasty. He does not personally feel the urge to rape and kill and cheat and pillage, but apparently most of the rest of us do. I start bawling into his ear about how most of us, under capitalism, live in conditions of chronic insecurity and stress, but before I can get very far he produces his trump card: what about natural wickedness? I have forgotten natural wickedness!

We have a long shout into each other’s faces about whether natural wickedness exists or whether it does not, during the course of which he suddenly makes the astonishing discovery that I must be an atheist. I accept the charge, and off we go again, on a different tack. He is very sorry for me that 1 do not share his belief in god; I am very sorry for him that he is so self-deluding. I tell him that his belief in god is nothing but ignorance and superstition and that he is like a child believing in fairies; whereupon he informs me that many medical men, “amongst the highest intellects in the land”, share his belief: at which I lost all credibility by resorting to the language of the gutter and snarling that there has never been any divine law which states that medical men shall not be capable of making arrant ********* of themselves. The eye surgeon, fortunately, does not hear this. He is too busy losing all credibility himself by relating a long, rambling tale of how, during a time of personal tragedy, he only survived by reason of his faith; thus proving irrefutably that his faith is based on scientific truth and god exists.

At this point, I collapse beneath the weight of accumulated illogicalities. Neither my throat nor my temper is up to continuing the struggle. These self- confessed intellectuals can wear a person out.

I pick up my prescription and say stupidly that we’ll resume the discussion in the afterlife. The eye surgeon pats me on the head and tells me that “in spite of everything" he is glad to have met me. I tell him that I am glad to have met him, too.

I tell his assistant, the mere optician, that I want my new lenses put into my old frames. I just wish I’d told the eye surgeon himself . . . 
Jean Ure