Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Edward Carpenter — a talent wasted (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Edward Carpenter was an author, poet and fellow-traveller of the political left-wing and anarchist movement for some thirty or forty years during the Victorian and Edwardian era. His numerous books and essays have been periodically neglected and rediscovered both during his lifetime and since his death in 1929.

Carpenter was born into a well-to-do family in Brighton in August 1844 and educated at Brighton college, France. Switzerland and Germany before going to Cambridge, becoming an Anglican priest in 1870. But Carpenter's beliefs changed as a result of the influence of F D Maurice's "Christian Socialist" ideas and he was increasingly drawn towards socialism while starting to have doubts about his religious convictions. Carpenter's health suffered due to the crisis of conscience he experienced and although a two months' holiday in Italy in 1873 partially restored his health, he resigned from the ministry in 1874.

From 1874 to 1881 Carpenter worked as a lecturer for the University Extension Scheme in the North of England. Although he found that work uncongenial he became acquainted with the manufacturing centres where he was to settle for the greater part of his life and where most of his writing and political activities took place. In 1882 he bought a smallholding of seven acres in the tiny hamlet of Millthorpe in Derbyshire, situated between Sheffield and Chesterfield, with money inherited from his father. With his independence he started to put into practice his ideas of self-sufficiency and living by manual labour. Carpenter was to write later: 
It had come to me with great force that I would go and throw in my lot with the mass-people and the manual workers. From the first I was taken with the Sheffield people. Rough in the extreme, twenty or thirty years in date behind other towns, and very uneducated, there was yet a heartiness about them, not without shrewdness, which attracted me. I felt more inclined to take root here than in any of the Northern towns where I had been. (My Days and Dreams, 1916).
This self-conscious search for the working-class and romantic view of their qualities was also indulged in by Leo Tolstoy in Russia and fifty years later by George Orwell, also in the North of England. But Carpenter, although just as sentimental in his approach to the workers was neither a philanthropic, titled landowner like Tolstoy nor a mere visitor to the North like Orwell; he spent forty years living by manual labour — admittedly with the security of his £6,000 inheritance.

Carpenter's growing interest in socialist ideas led him to join the Democratic Federation, having been inspired by reading Hyndman's England for All, and he donated £300 to launch Justice, the organisation's journal, in 1884. For a period of about twenty years Carpenter belonged to, or was associated with, a prodigious number of organisations: he was a member of the Fellowship of the New Life, a fore-runner of the Fabian Society and in 1885 he joined the Socialist League and helped William Morris with its paper Commonweal in competition against Justice.

In 1886 Carpenter was one of the founders of the Sheffield Socialist Society and in the same year associated with Freedom Press which produced Freedom, the anarchist newspaper. Charlotte Wilson, the first editor of Freedom and Peter Kropotkin were guests at Millthorpe and addressed the Sheffield Socialist Society. Carpenter was an occasional writer for Freedom and provided some of the material for Kropotkin's anarchist classic Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899). From the late 1870s onward Carpenter began to develop homosexual relationships (the suppression of which had probably contributed to his ill-health earlier in his life) and to write extensively about the subject.

After a number of relationships Carpenter finally lived openly with George Merrill, whom he had first met in 1890, on his smallholding at Millthorpe from 1898 and later in retirement at Guildford until Merrill's death in 1928. Carpenter's courage in living openly with a male lover and continuing to write about homosexuality has to be seen in the context of Victorian attitudes to homosexuality; Oscar Wilde had been sentenced to two years' hard labour in 1895, although Noel Greig suggests.- ". . . it was the act of treason of taking working-class boys to upper-class clubs which sealed his fate”. (Introduction to Edward Carpenter: Selected Writings 1984. Gay Modem Press), and Havelock Ellis had been prosecuted for writing Sexual Inversion in 1898.

Carpenter was undoubtedly protected by living quietly in the North of England. He avoided serious difficulties although his regular publisher withdrew his books after Oscar Wilde's trial and a smear campaign in 1909 by a political opponent caused him to lose his seat on the local council. Carpenter was a spokesman for women's rights, anticipating the women's liberation movement of this century. Love's Coming of Age appeared in 1896 and contained some essays which had previously been published. He showed some insight into the nature of sexual relationships under capitalism when he wrote-.
Yet it must never be forgotten that nothing short of large social changes, stretching beyond the sphere of women only, can bring about complete emancipation of the latter. Not till our whole commercial system, with its barter and sale of human labour and human love for gain, is done away, and not till a whole new code of ideals and customs of life has come in will women really be free. They must remember that their cause is also the cause of the oppressed labourer over the whole earth, and the labourer has to remember that his cause is theirs.
It is surprising that despite realisation that human relationships are debased by capitalism. Carpenter persisted in taking part in single-issue campaigns and to belong to reformist organisations, some of which were in opposition to each other.

In 1886 Carpenter wrote England Arise! which was included in his song-book The Chants of Labour in 1888 and was for several years a rallying song for the labour movement until it was overtaken in popularity by The Red Flag and the Internationale. The passionate nature of Carpenter's feelings for the poor can be seen in the second verse:
By your young children's eyes so red with weeping.
By their white faces aged with want and fear.
By the dark cities where your babes are creeping
Naked of joy and all that makes life dear;
   From each wretched slum
   Let the loud cry come;
   Arise. O England, for the day is here!
Although sexual themes, and homosexuality in particular, tended to dominate Carpenter's writing he remained active in a number of organisations until well into the twentieth century. In 1887 he gave evidence on behalf of some of the demonstrators at the Bloody Sunday riots in London and in 1892 gave evidence for, and mustered support to help, the Walsall Anarchists by publicising the case in Freedom. In court Carpenter described himself as an anarchist; a courageous statement to make when it is almost certain that the police used agent provocateurs to secure convictions in the case.

But in contradiction of his public declaration of anarchist principles Carpenter helped in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party in the following year and in 1895. when attempts were made to obtain an amnesty for the Walsall Anarchists, he wrote for the Labour Leader, the ILP's journal.

Carpenter was also a champion of animal rights, penal reform, religious toleration and progressive schooling, having been involved in the founding of the progressive school Abbotsholme in 1889. He was interested in dress reform, having abandoned formal attire and popularised the wearing of sandals. But despite calling himself an anarchist on occasions, he had a seat on his local council and supported syndicalism and the parliamentary Labour Party at the same time. And having lost his Christian beliefs he nevertheless became a devotee of oriental mysticism. William Morris was a close friend of Carpenter's and on several occasions stayed with him at Millthorpe, which became a model for News from Nowhere. Morris wrote:
I listened with longing heart to his account of his patch of ground, seven acres: he says that he and his fellow can almost live on it: they grow their own wheat, and send flowers and fruit to Chesterfield and Sheffield markets: all that sounds very agreeable to me. (E P Thompson. 1955 William Morris: From Romantic To Revolutionary Merlin Press). 
Carpenter continued to write about political topics, editing and contributing to Forecasts of the Coming Century (1897) and a collection of essays: Towards Industrial Freedom in 1917 but he considered his most important work to be Towards Democracy which was published in four instalments from 1883 to 1905 and comprises a series of Whitmanesque prose poems expressing his affinity for oriental mysticism with an occasional, and often moving, declamation against capitalism. In many ways Carpenter epitomises the futility of reformist activity. His participation in reformist movements was neither tactical nor an attempt to gain power or personal advantage but a sincere wish to change society for the better. But society cannot be changed piecemeal: discrimination against different minorities is inherent in capitalism which thrives on weakening workers' power by creating scape-goats and divisions.

Much of Carpenter's work is readable, and some of his poetry is quite moving, although some of his ideas about sexual relationships appear dated. He had some insight into the nature of capitalism from the exploitation he had seen for himself in the Sheffield factories but his political ideas were often confused. He was sincere and courageous and devoted his time, talent and money in the fight for a just society but like all reformists he squandered his gifts fighting the symptoms of capitalism instead of wholeheartedly trying to abolish the system itself and replace it with socialism. Nevertheless it is fitting that one of the most neglected of Victorian writers and workers in the cause of labour should be rediscovered.
Carl Pinel

May the force be with you (1987)

From the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Were you one of the thousands who watched "Star Wars" when it was shown, yet again, on TV on New Year's Day? Juvenile it may be, but it is very popular. The plot, about "Good" versus "Evil", is not much different from that in countless films about cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, or secret agents and foreign spies. The extra audience attraction in this case comes from the science fiction hardware.

Technology, especially powerful technology, grips the popular imagination in a way that worries many people who are concerned about the direction in which modern society is developing. Space flight, computer-controlled fighter rockets, laser weapons, nuclear missiles, and most of the other inventions in "Star Wars", are anti-human. And the sequence of events, as in countless computer games, is little more than a series of episodes of destruction and counter-destruction. But it is all done with great brilliance and rhythmical timing, like a ballet, to make it attractive. President Reagan was very shrewd when he gave the new American armaments programme, the Strategic Defence Initiative, the label "Star Wars". He ensured its widespread support amongst American voters. The technology of death and destruction is booming.

On a mundane level, too. technology appears to be threatening us. Thousands of workers in manufacturing and the information industries are losing their jobs to the new electronic systems. Chemical and nuclear wastes are polluting the land, sea and atmosphere. And the surveillance and control powers of the state are increasing rapidly with the use of databank computers, television eyes and bugging devices. The temporary feelings of vicarious power we get from watching science fantasy films are hardly enough to offset our growing sense of powerlessness in real life.

What, if anything, has gone wrong? Throughout the 1960s and 70s there was a stream of magazine articles and television programmes persuading us that the advances in new materials, biological engineering, electronics, nuclear physics, and so on, were going to usher in an era of plenty, comfort and leisure. Many of these optimistic journalists are now silent, because it has not happened like that. Why not? The short answer is that the journalists did not understand (or chose to ignore) the relationship between technology and real life.

Technology in its widest sense embraces all the methods and devices with which human beings make their living from their environment. And it has always been changing, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, throughout human existence. Technology is the basis upon which human societies arise, and at an early stage it became the main factor in conditioning relationships between people in society, because it began to make wealth and power possible. All the early inventions, like sowing seeds, or smelting metals, or writing, were also hedged round with a great deal of religious magic, and this became an integral part of the power structure in the development of human societies. Priests either became wealthy rulers themselves or developed close partnerships with those who had power. The result was that, instead of increasing production and raising the standards of living of everyone, the application of new technology was mostly directed at providing luxury and opulence for the ruling elite. The pyramids of Egypt were faced with marble and capped with gold, while the slaves who built them died of exhaustion in the surrounding sand.

The direction and impact of technological advances cannot be properly considered, therefore, without taking into account the power and wealth relationships in a society. The type of society that dominates the world today does not put up pyramids or enormous stone cathedrals. Instead it puts up enormously expensive sputniks and space shuttles—while millions starve to death, and hundreds of millions live out their lives in grinding poverty. When we examine the power and wealth relationships in present society it becomes clear why the prospects foreseen by the optimists did not materialise, and why we actually feel ourselves threatened by "advances" and "improvements".

The most obvious—and yet the most consistently ignored—reason why technology is not doing what we want it to is that it is not ours. It does not belong to us—the great majority of the population of the world. We design it, and make it, and run it all, but we have no say in what we make or how it is used. Just as we do not own or control the farms and factories and offices and transport in which we work. They are all owned and controlled, either privately or through the state, by a small ruling class in every nation. Our access to the wealth we produce is limited by the wages we can negotiate from them. And our power in deciding what course society shall take is limited to putting a cross on a voting slip, every four years or so, against the name of a politician who will keep things going on much the same as usual.

And yet change is obviously taking place. The lives we lead are very different in many respects from those of our grandparents a hundred years ago. And it is technology that has forced that change, but technology interacting with the social structure. We produce and use more and more sophisticated and destructive weapons, not because technology favours weapons, but because this is a fiercely competitive, nationalistic, warring type of society. "Star Wars" is one of the many pieces of entertainment that romanticise and give approval to violence. What "Star Wars" ignores is the society which manufactures its fighter rockets, its huge space ships, and its planet-sized Death Star, and keeps them all fuelled and fed and manned with highly trained personnel. High technology depends, not only upon high technologists, but upon a whole society at an appropriate level of co-operation, knowledge and skills. Human beings have certainly developed technology, but technology has also developed us.

These changes, in people and in the lives they lead, have been gradual, but the force of technological change also exerts pressure upon the social structure itself. And this cannot change gradually. Ruling classes never willingly give up their wealth and power and privilege, and the basic power structure which evolved out of the capitalist revolution three hundred years ago remains essentially the same. The ruling class has modified its tactics and repeatedly adjusted its public image in order to maintain and increase its grip, not only upon the bulk of society's wealth, but upon society's means of producing wealth in all its forms. It is this, and the rapid growth of capitalist nations all over the world, that are responsible for the escalation of civil violence and international armed readiness. The force of technological development now promises plenty and ease and peace to everyone on earth, but that very promise is a threat to the present social structure. Capitalism, whether state controlled as in Russia, or privatised as in the West, depends upon restricted consumption by the masses to keep them dependent upon wages and salaries. Agriculture and industry can produce an abundance of food and consumer goods of all sorts, but when they start to do so the markets collapse and production is cut back.

Technology appears as a threat, therefore. only within the limits of this restricted, oppressive social structure. "Star Wars" is an extrapolation, far into the future, of capitalism's oppressive and destructive use of technology. George Lucas and his scriptwriters explain it as a conflict between "goodies" and "baddies". But it is fiction. Real human beings are not "goodies" and "baddies", and they have changed the structure of their social relationships many times in the past. The slave empires of the Mediterranean have all gone, and the feudal empires of Europe and the Far East have followed them. Capitalism must follow in its turn. The force for change is the developing power of production. It is this that makes possible a world in which weapons and wars are not only unnecessary but impossible, but it is we, the great majority, who must make that change and realise those possibilities. Those of you who are already working to bring about that change know that the force is with you.
Ron Cook

Socialism—will it work? (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Socialism's all very well but . . . we've got to start somewhere . . . it's idealistic . . . you can't run before you can walk . . . "

Ever said that? Ever felt like that? Most people do when faced with the arguments for a moneyless, wageless society. They agree completely but still feel that there is something more immediate to do.

It's fairly understandable really. It's an attitude we learn every week on the TV, when Sir Robin Day manages to get his guests through 17 different world events, conflicts and social problems in the space of 60 minutes. Or breakfast telly devotes up to three minutes to Jimmy Greaves' views on thermonuclear war. And every week brings some government spokesperson presenting a new sure-fire solution to what is usually a very old problem. Unemployment? That's easy set up a programme called JobClub! or JobStart! or JobTrain! or TrainStart!, or something like that. Then spend more on full-page ads than you do on the scheme itself, and quietly issue the results of the scheme on a bank holiday or whenever the next royal baby is due.

Or what about a new problem, like AIDS? What's the blinkered response of the politicians to that? Wake up Lord Whitelaw in the House of Lords, tell him how to spell AIDS, and what it is, and get him to head a committee to look into it.

But take a step back from the day-to-day catalogue of initiatives and schemes, of campaigns and committees, to ask the simple question, does it work? The answer can only be no; the same problems remain every year and return every election. And with them come some new ones—AIDS, drug abuse, and so on. Capitalism produces problems as quick as the legislators or campaigners can solve them. The simple point that must be grasped is that the vast majority of social problems have a common cause in capitalism. So if you say "Socialism is fine but it must wait, then be aware of exactly what you are saying. Can you really say that unemployment is just an unfortunate blight on society, or is there a reason why capitalism cannot avoid the dole queues? Is it enough, for example, to condemn heroin as "evil", or is there a reason why people should seek to escape from reality?

To all these problems, socialism (which means the replacement of capitalism by a system of common ownership and democratic control) is a far more relevant and immediate solution than any attempt to keep capitalism but without the nasty bits.

But then, isn't there one issue that overrides everything: "I want socialism but we've got to get rid of the Bomb first . . . " Well, what is being done at the moment to solve this particular and particularly pressing problem: in the last few months thousands of people got together to Link Arms Across Scotland; people around the world donated a Million Minutes of Peace to thinking about peace (as if if we all clap our hands loud enough then Tinkerbell might live); the Pope invited a variety of religious leaders round for a really big pray-in and an appeal for one day of ceasefire (which lasted until lunch-time in Ulster and breakfast-time in Beirut); and Billy Bragg got himself arrested for cutting some fence around an American base (the things people will do to plug a new album).

Meanwhile of course, those supporters of multilateral "disarmament" met in another plush hotel, this time in Reykjavik, where they almost reached agreement on whether to hold another summit. So a lot has been done, there can be no doubt about that. But what has been achieved? Another month of demonstrations that may make the demonstrators feel they are doing something. Another month of Terry Waite flying in. And another month of more warheads being stockpiled while even more destruction is being designed on the drawing-board.

Just because nuclear weapons are the most obvious and most horrific problem that most of us face, does not remove their rationale inside capitalism, it doesn't mean that capitalism suddenly doesn't need them and we need only wish them away. Only a sane society can guarantee freedom from the threat of war.

In socialism, there would be no need for weapons of destruction, because a society based on production for use must remove the conflicts over resources and markets that is inherent within capitalism, whether it's the fishing areas around the Falklands. or the Kharg Island oil terminal. Removing the weapons of war is more than just a question of taking the toys from the boys or banning the bomb, but of denying to the small minority—whose interests weapons are there to defend—the position of having separate interests.

With socialism, the world will no longer be split up into countries, states, super powers, blocs or pacts. Instead we will have to democratically organise around the world to use the earth's resources to produce for the population s needs, and not for markets or economic quotas.

It can be tempting to get caught up in the demos and the marches as an alternative to actually getting anywhere. But just think of all the battles workers have fought this century already — and for what? For the very same things that reformism is still demanding. The only difference now is that the weapons are even more horrific.

So the argument that "socialism is a fine ideal but we must do something now" presents a false choice between socialism and doing something now. The real option is to do something now—buying this paper, selling this paper, joining us—for socialism.
Brian Gardner

Branch News (1964)

Party News from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

More news from Belfast and Glasgow.

Danny McCarthy reports that the Belfast members had good literature sales at both the Easter CND parade and the Conference of the Northern Ireland Labour Party.

A recent demonstration over redundancy was used as an opportunity to put over our case. Danny went along with Comrade Montague, who stated our attitude to the television and radio reporters who were present. Alas, this was not included in the television programme that same evening.

The Irish comrades put their usual hard work into the recent local elections, in which we had a candidate in the Duncairn ward. Danny reports that the response of the Duncairn workers to our appeal for election funds was “truly staggering”.

Glasgow report that they had an audience of about eighty at their debate with the Young Liberals, when R. Donnelly put our case. The theme of our May Day meeting in Glasgow was “Abolish the Wages System”. The audience numbered over a hundred, seven pound collection was taken and over £2 worth of literature sold.

The Branch contested two wards—North Kelvin and Knightswood—in the municipal elections. Publicity at North Kelvin was limited to intensive canvassing of the Socialist Standard—over 450 copies were sold during the previous three months—and the distribution of eight thousand manifestoes. The party polled 134 votes which, Glasgow Branch think, must have contained comparatively few “mistaken” votes.

In Knightswood again our publicity was restricted, although we did get a mention on TV. The Glasgow members slogged away here under tremendous difficulties—they sold the Socialist Standard around the doors and they distributed twelve thousand manifestoes. The party polled 297 votes but, as the Branch puts it, “How many of these were Socialist votes is difficult to say in view of this being the first time we have contested the ward.”

Glasgow Branch are a living witness to the fact that hard work for Socialism is the most invigorating thing. Far from being tired after their exertions, they arc already planning “a greater effort next year.”

We hear from Sunderland that our comrade Clifford Allen addressed the Hylton Estate Workingmen’s Club (or rather their Debating Society) last month on the subject “Karl Marx—was he a dreamer or a realist?” His lecture was very well received by an audience of 50, of which 5 were members of the Sunderland Group. The address was followed by extensive discussion and many questions. 11/6d. worth of Socialist Standard were sold.

Comrade Allen and the members of the Sunderland group were much encouraged by the results of the lecture and intend to concentrate their efforts on similar activities in the future. There is a move to establish a number of debating societies and discussion groups on the numerous new housing estates in the Sunderland area, and the group hope to give further addresses to these. It is heartening to see such a good start being made to the activities of the Party in the North-east.

The debate at Bromley with INDEC attracted an audience of about 45, of whom half were non-members. Literature sales were only nominal, but there was a collection of £3 4s. 6d.

The Aldermaston March (1959)

From the May 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The arrival of the second Aldermaston March in London on Easter Monday was a grand opportunity for the Party to make itself felt—and it did! The awakening political interest in this country, which was briefly indicated at the time of Suez, is bringing many young bewildered people into the political arena for the first time. Their rallying point, at the moment, is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Encouraged by our successful and inspiring Annual Conference, during the preceeding three days, an impressive body of Party members reported at midday to the Party Literature Depot that had been set up in a comrade’s car by the Albert Memorial. This was the last halt for the many thousands of marchers prior to their final “assault” on Trafalgar Square. Over Conference week-end, both Paddington and Wood Green Branches had prepared leaflets specially for the occasion. One dealt with the futility of the Campaign in general. The other concerned the controversy within the Movement for Nuclear Disarmament as to whether or not they should withhold their votes from parliamentary candidates who do not promise beforehand to oppose the British manufacture of nuclear weapons, once elected.

Interest in our leaflets was so great that the Party Organiser and a few other comrades went back to Head Office to roll off another 2,000. In all 5,000 leaflets were distributed during the day. Once the March was on the move again the literature depot was set up, this time near to the Square.

Thirty-three comrades drew supplies of literature from the depot but a number of others helped too, so that everywhere you looked the SOCIALIST STANDARD and the pamphlet on War were to be seen. Sales were remarkably good—234 STANDARDS and over 160 War pamphlets—getting on for £15 worth, and these figures do not include a certain amount of literature that had been brought along by individual members.

A most heartening aspect of the day's effort was the number of provincial comrades who were doing their bit. Obviously enjoying the feel of an all-out Party effort were members from Bradford, Manchester, Newport and Nottingham and, as was to be expected, nearly all the London area Branches were represented. Specially noteworthy were the high sales recorded by a Manchester comrade and the number of accepted challenges to debate issued by the Newport Group secretary.

As for assessing our impact, it was noticeable how many more people than last year were prepared to accept the Socialist contention that the real problem is the continued existence of war-prone Capitalist Society and not the nature of current weapons.

*      *      *

The following was distributed as a leaflet during the March:

A point of view

“. . . We march in hope. We are building the foundations of a better, saner future, free not only from the horror and cruelty of our time but also its blindness, double-talk and unreason.” (Tribune, 27 March 59.)

If only this were true, how worthwhile this large and impressive march from Aldermaston would be! After your four days on the road, our view of the Campaign may not be popular but it must be put. We hold that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is on an unsound basis and inevitably leads in the wrong direction.

The Campaign fails because it is not concerned with removing the cause of war. In opposing “The Bomb ” to the exclusion of everything else, the effect is to oppose neither bombs nor war. . . . One year of ceaseless activity: Aldermaston, last Easter—Mass Lobby in June—Direct Action at Swaffham in December. Hundreds of thousands have heard your appeal to ban the Hydrogen Bomb, but have you made any impression on the present Government? And do you really believe another Labour Government would be any better?

The truth must be faced. Over these practical questions the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is rent with dissension. 

A large body of the Campaign is working for the return of a Labour Government. How futile! The Labour Party is committed to war and the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

An active minority is advocating “direct action” and is trying to persuade people not to vote for any candidate who does not oppose the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Put to the test. Labour as well as the Conservatives will manufacture and possibly use the Hydrogen Bomb. The supporters of “direct action” sense this without understanding why and their methods, the outcome of despair, are a repudiation of democracy.

The Hydrogen Bomb is a monstrous thing. We say war in any form is monstrous!

The risk of nuclear weapons is inseparable from war, and war is inseparable from the way human society is organised today. The world we live in is dominated by the private ownership of the means of life, production for sale and profit, and by economic competition. The struggle between governments represents the rivalry of capitalist ruling groups—a struggle that continually threatens mankind with war.

Russia, with its state-controlled capitalism, is no less involved in this sordid business than are the U.S.A. and Great Britain.

Socialists want to abolish capitalism and to replace private ownership by common ownership. Socialists want a world in which the privilege of a few to monopolise wealth can be replaced by production of goods and services solely to satisfy human needs.

Socialists want a world in which “ Community,” “ Co-operation ” and ”Peace” can become realities not hollow slogans.

Effective opposition to the Hydrogen Bomb demands opposition to the whole monstrosity of war.

Opposition to war demands opposition to capitalism.

Opposition to capitalism demands working for the re-organisation of human society—for socialism.

One swallow doesn't make a profit (1977)

From the June 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current issue of Birds, the magazine of the RSPB, carries the following editorial about Seal Sands on the Tees, an internationally important wintering place for shelduck and migrating shore birds. It is worth reproducing in full.
“For years we have fought to save this last vital remnant of Seal Sands from reclamation for port development. The last round in this battle was about the draft County structure plan, which had zoned the whole area for development. The special panel appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment to hear objections to the plan found in our favour, concluding that the case for industrial development was weak and that there were positive reasons on nature conservation grounds against reclamation of any but a small sector of the site. However, the Secretary of State has said that he is proposing to reject his panel’s recommendation and to give priority to expansion of the port and port-related industry. If he does not change his mind (and we have submitted a further strong objection), this will permit the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority to complete their destruction of the estuary.
“It will also be the third recent occasion on which a Secretary of State has rejected the findings of an enquiry and approved the despoliation of a site of international or national importance on the grounds of regional or local economic advantage—grounds which furthermore were not proved at the enquiries in question. Both the other consents were for oil refineries —one at Cliffe on the North Kent Marshes and the other in Nigg Bay in the Cromarty Firth—and they come at a time when Britain and Europe already have excess refinery capacity.
“A public enquiry is intended to provide an arena where all information and facts for and against development of a site can be properly tested. It becomes a pointless expenditure of time and money if a Secretary of State is going to throw overboard conclusions every time they do not suit his views or, as one must inevitably suspect, when they run contrary to the political expediency of the moment.”
Would it be churlish to say to the RSPB: “We told you so”? What they are experiencing confirms yet again two major points in the case of the Socialist Party. First, that the so-called democracy under capitalism, here expressing itself as the grand-sounding “public enquiry”, is allowed to go just as far as capitalism wants it to—to attempt to mollify the working class—until it starts to conflict with industry, profits etc. Then bang! up goes the brick wall and out comes the dictator (on this occasion a Labour Party one).

Second, it illustrates that power is political, in the Government’s hands. Even a wealthy pressure-group with a full-time staff and nearly a quarter of a million members to sign petitions cannot alter the Secretary of State’s decision. If they cannot save even a mud-flat in this situation, how can the working class hope to change society without first capturing political power through Parliament?

A final comment on the RSPB. They currently run an appeal called “Save a place for birds”. Perhaps this experience will demonstrate to them that nothing can be safeguarded within the capitalist system — only by abolishing it and building a sane society. Capitalism is not even concerned with saving a place for people. What hope have birds got?
D. W. Roberts

Obituary: Jim Spittle (1973)

Obituary from the November 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many members will be saddened to hear that Jim Spittle, who had been enduring a painful illness for some time, died during the first days of October.

He joined the party in 1921, at first the old West Ham Branch and later, when he moved to west London, what was then Wembley Branch. Jim worked for Watney’s and it was there that he met, and persuaded into the Party, Jack Thurston, who was to become his close friend and neighbour for so many years.

My first memories of Jim are of my new, nervous days as a Party member. This was just after the war; the Party was growing and we came in rude and demanding. Jim took it all quietly; we soon became impressed with this man who was always to be relied on to turn up, wherever we were having a meeting, whatever the weather. I never saw him in an overcoat; he cycled everywhere.

After his retirement Jim moved to Suffolk, at first in his own bungalow but then, when his wife died, in with one of his children. He still travelled up to stay with Jack Thurston whenever he could and on these visits it was always a great pleasure to see him at the Branch. Until the last days he kept his physical toughness, cycling each day five miles there and back to get the milk.

Jim was no speaker or writer and he was modest enough about his considerable knowledge to keep it mostly out of sight, to be shown only when he was convinced it needed to be. If there is such a thing as a backbone in the Party, he was part of it. When Socialism is here, it will be peopled by men like Jim Spittle; would that there were more like him today.

Keep an eye on Spain (1958)

From the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
"On October 12th in Washington the Spanish Ambassador gave a Columbus Day reception to which Soviet diplomats were invited for the first time. The Ambassadors of Poland and Czecho Slovakia were also present"
— (Manchester Guardian. 12/11/57.)
One evening in 1951 our Branch-room was filled to overflowing. The London correspondent of the official Yugoslav News Agency. Tanjug. was vainly attempting to defend the proposition that Yugoslavia is a Socialist country. A Hackney comrade, known for his bluntness, asked what our visitor’s reactions would be if it ever should suit his Government to sip champagne with Franco as Molotov had done with Ribbentrop, betokening the switch from enemy to friend and the desire to inaugurate trading and to co-operate militarily. His retort was an impassioned denial of such a possibility at any time in the future and resentment at the very suggestion. Of course our comrade's question was born of a whole history of switched alliances between the nations of the modem world. Each Nation-state represents a privileged and powerful minority who owe their position to their direct (private) or indirect (state) ownership of industry and wealth. In a world competing for export markets, supplies of the raw materials necessary for industrial production and strategically placed war bases, every participant in the world economy is a potential enemy of every other, though each will try to sink as many differences as possible with as many countries as. possible so as to present a stronger “front" in the course of the struggle against the rest. It is the interests of the capitalist class in the particular situation which basically decide who is friend and who is foe.

Sputnik Scientists in Barcelona
Six years have passed. The course of events has once again shown the correctness of the Socialist contention that it is not sentiment nor is it high principle but the desire for trade and power that motivates the ruling class of each country. Actually, latest reports from Spain go one better. There are all the signs of at least a partial "rapprochement” between Franco Spain and the Kremlin itself. Fortunately for him, our adversary of that evening six years ago does not have the responsibility of answering for the new situation. He wisely departed from the field of journalism and as far as we know has refrained from returning to his native country. How would be view this latest development? First the game of football against a Spanish team in Belgrade. Then a return match though there are still no diplomatic relations between Spain and any of the East European countries. Russian technologists freely participated in the recent Barcelona Geophysical-year Conference and already Franco can say in connection with the Sputnik, "We have to fact up to the fact that we are living under the sign of the Soviet earth satellite. The old Russia could not have launched the satellite; it could only happen in the new Russia. Great enterprises call for unity, discipline, authority . . . " (News Chronicle, Wed. 30/10/57).

For the first time under the Franco regime Spanish newspapers reproduced the front page of the Russian "Pravda,” dealing with the satellite. “Never before” said the Guardian correspondent “had the press been allowed such freedom to play up things Russian." Manchester Guardian, 12/11/57).

Trade goes on
We have known for some considerable time that trading between these supposedly irreconcilable enemies, the “Christian Gentlemen of Spain" and the “Atheistic Reds" had been going on. At least three years ago bananas, which are quite a luxury in Russia, were finding their way from the Spanish Canary Islands to the Soviet bloc via Switzerland. The traditional Spanish export of saffron to rice-eating China, communist or otherwise, has steadily continued. The News Chronicle article quoted above reports the recent arrival of several Russian delegations to Madrid. This has not been reported in the censored Spanish press as it will no doubt require some little time to recondition the public's attitude to Russia. There is talk of some sort of Russo-Spanish agreement over the gold reserves which, it is claimed, were handed over to the Russian Bank by Negrin, the Prime Minister, at the fall of the Republic, for safe keeping. Russia has insisted up till now that the gold was but a partial payment for debts incurred by the Republic when buying Russian arms. Other East European countries are also involved in the development of trade with Spain. The following is reprinted by the Manchester Guardian (12/11/57): —
“Spain is negotiating S25 millions trading with East Germany. Spanish negotiators are in contact with Czechoslovak Government Government officials. There arc direct trade relations with Poland."

Calculated Risk
Moscow also took a bold step by recently repatriating several thousand Spanish and Basque refugees, many of whom, having gone there as children as long ago as 1938, and spent almost all their lives and had their education there. Quite a lot of them returned with Russian wives (in itself quite a concession!) and almost all brought back household goods now being mass produced in the U.S.S.R. Khrushchev must have thought long before permitting so many disgruntled people to return to the West though be probably counted on Spanish working class conditions being such that the comparison between life in both countries would favour industrialised Russia, notwithstanding the flamenco singing so eagerly lapped up by the tourists on the Costa Brava.

Pumping Uncle Sam
It would seem that Franco, the most long lived dictator bar neighbouring Salazar of Portugal, “Britain's oldest ally" is taking a leaf out of dictator Tito’s book. The U.S. Government may have been taking his alliance too much for granted. How better to prompt further economic “shots in the arm" than to play “hard to get," with the hint that there may be others in the offing? And in case anyone says that Yugoslavia would not necessarily be a party to a Russo-Spanish “rapprochement " who would have thought that the one-time “fascist hyena" Tito would be spending time last month hunting, fishing and shooting with Marshal Zhukov ? But then it does not seem to have done Zhukov any good, does it?
Eddie Grant

In the shadow of Mickey Mouse & Clinton (1994)

From the October 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are living in a Brave New World and the invisible dictator is Walt Disney. After the death camps came the theme parks: in the first human bodies were cast into furnaces, like so many offensive animals to be slaughtered; now they cast human sensibilities into the mind-numbing, culture-eroding cartoon community of Mickey Mouse and make the victims pay to get in. No longer is total power sought, at least by the sophisticated, by means of the cudgel and the bullet. Now the slaves are condemned to prisons of fabricated fun. (Has it ever occurred to those who declaim against prisons being turned into holiday camps that this says more than a little about holiday camps?) From the phoney friendliness of Radio One (where we all have Fun) to the cheap and sloppy outpourings of Hollywood's hypnosis industry', fun is for sale; illusion has become one of the fastest-growing commodities of world capitalism. You want happiness? How much can you afford?

Brave New World
In this Brave New World, which is indeed the same old world with its same old system and single old agenda of profits before life, there is a celebration of the ephemeral and the unhistorical. The beauty of Disney, the first theoretician of cultural excretion, is that nothing he produces (produced by others, of course) exists within real history. From Bambi to Aladdin to Peter Pan and assorted talking animals, every thing is ripped from the context of materiality, like a drunk's view of the night before An epidemic in the use of banned drugs, pathways to escape, plagues the inner cities where a passage from reality can be fixed for a price. But the legal illusion-sellers, the merchants of here-today-gone-before-you-know-it Fun, are the market leaders with their drip- drip-drip of manufactured escapism designed to make you forget what you are and why you are. Disney does this well. Not for nothing did they call his corporation an Empire. Not for being jolly good fellows did the Disney Corporation (now in the midst of internecine executive warfare over its future leadership) make $3.6 billion in 1993, as against a mere $244 million in 1984.

Speaking of which . . .  Orwell’s novel was basically wrong. In parts chillingly predictive of the sinister world of security cameras, "intelligence services" and news manipulation which modem capitalism has become. Nineteen Eighty Four was essentially a scare story for people who could only recognise an oppressor if he looked like Hitler or Stalin. This has been the great self-defence of liberal capitalism: well, at least we’re not Hitlers or Stalins. Examine and scrutinise as much as you will the smarmy, offensive, unctuous grin of a Clinton and there can be no doubt that the funny little moustache just isn’t there and neither is the Stalinist stare or the goose-stepping crazies with medals and ministerial powers.

"Big Clinton Is Watching You"? No, it just does not ring true. Clinton is a product of the Brave New World, more at home in a Disney theme park with the Three Blairs, Captain Kohl and Major the Mouse (that couldn’t roar) than in any Ministry of Truth worthy of Orwell’s ink. In the Clinton World Empire nobody is sent to Room 101; we send ourselves into a dazed captivity of MTV where music has become a hostage to star-selling, or CNN where news happens so fast that it is invented before history has had time to take place. In Orwell’s nightmare at least you would know where you were. Or if not, at least the simplicity of brainwashing (never a convincing explanation of the ideological process, incidentally) could be blamed for not knowing where you are. But Maoism is as obsolete now as the Ford Popular and dental care on the NHS; Orwell was the prophet of a disaster which had already largely happened when he forewarned us of it.

Happy slaves
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which predated Orwell’s by a decade-and-a-half, is the story of what has happened to capitalist culture. It is a critical guide-book to DisneyWorld. It is a tale of death by a billion laughs. It and Crome Yellow may well be the only successful  novels which Huxley wrote, and to be sure The Doors of Perception (which gave its name to a rock band and an air of intellectual legitimacy to a drug culture) was the product of a mind rotten with empty Californian culture [sic] and devoid of the slightest reference to the capitalist system. Had Huxley directed his eminently scientific brain towards the nature of the profit system which can only ever employ science unscientifically he might have left us more. As it was he died on the day that JFK was shot (by several hundred people if the books and films are to be believed) and did not even make the News. "What were you doing when you heard that JFK was shot?" (Perhaps one of the more inane cliches of our century.) "Reading Brave New World and wondering if things can get any worse." They did get worse and here we are. The novel is still worth reading.

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death (a book replete with insight, but feeble on vision) supports what has been stated here:
“What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxley an prophecy. Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility".
Leaving aside questions of spirits and nations (both themselves artificial products), the analysis is not to be dismissed lightly. Persuading the victim to find the strength to break free is one thing, but persuading happy slaves that they are not really happy is quite another.

Metaphysical fantasy
In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley, writing in 1958, displayed prescient sagacity in spotting the cultural signs which contemporary jumbled-up minds have thrown into the lucky-dip theory called Postmodernism (of which more some other time): In Brave New World non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature (the feelies, orgy-porgy, centrifugal bumble-puppy) are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation . . .  A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time on the spot, not here and now in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.

"Instruments of policy" In an age where sound bites and cultivated images subdue larger populations than armies could dream of regimenting, we should think more and more about just what these "instruments of policy" are all about. Look again at that robotic, idiot's grin on the face of the American President and ask yourself how safe you feel with Mickey Mouse’s foam-filled fabricated finger on the fun-packed, all-action, bang-bang-bang nuclear button.
Steve Coleman