Thursday, January 28, 2016

Letter: Socialism and Insurance. (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reply to a Correspondent.

Miss Hilda Brock (Leyton) writes asking us to explain a passage which occurred in a recent article on ”Socialism and the Middle Class.” The passage is: “What need of insurance clerks in a world where risks are borne by society instead of by a special section with a view to making a profit.”

Miss Brock is of the opinion that under Socialism insurance and bank clerks will simply be transferred to the service of the State, which will take over these institutions, and that there will consequently be no labour set free for productive work.

It is evident first of all that Miss Brock falls into the common error of supposing that Socialism is merely an extension of State ownership. In fact, State Capitalism and Socialism are irreconcilable, and the Socialist Party accordingly opposes parties which advocate the former, such as the Labour Party.

Capitalism is continually producing insecurity for individuals, both capitalists and workers. Insurance companies make profit for their shareholders by insuring these individuals against some of the effects of that insecurity. Where profit cannot be made, the State (that is, the capitalists as a whole) is compelled to step in, and must in the last resort, maintain destitute workers to prevent mass starvation.

When private ownership, which is the cause of the workers’ poverty, is abolished, there will be no need to protect them against insecurity which will no longer exist. There will be no room for any kind of profit-making, and therefore no private banks, insurance companies or other capitalist concerns.

Society will organise the production of goods and their distribution to those places where the members of society want to consume them. Clerks will be needed to keep records and make estimates of wealth production, but they will not be needed to waste their labour, making private profit for insurance shareholders out of the misfortunes of individuals arising from the disorganisation of the social system.
Ed. Com

The Terror-Torn Capitalist (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

As thinkers we Socialists are pitifully shallow. We don't seem to get to the root cause of things, like the panders of the capitalist Press.

Not, for instance, like Lady McLaren, who has recently illumined the World (both this terraqueous globe and the newspaper of that name) on the subject of race suicide. The decline of the birthrate, it would appear, is causing consternation in our Upper Circles. So her ladyship, instead of wasting time in absurd condemnation of an economic system which slaughters wholesale the children of the very poor, dives below the mere surface and makes the problem plain.

In a tense drama the comedian need not be excruciatingly funny to excite amusement; amid the tragedy of penal courts the magistrate calls forth laughter without being inordinately witty. But to arrest public attention on the peril of the race, writers in our prostitute Press must be beyond exception profound, persuasive, gushing. Lady Mac squares the circumference to a nice-T.

Admire her penetration. She maintains that the marked tendency of the birthrate to decline is due more to the unwillingness of husbands to support children than to the unwillingness of wives to become mothers. When you walk along our dirty proletarian streets and watch our ill-clad, half fed kids, meditate on the meanness of workingmen, who, although blessed with 24s. 9d. s week and acquiescent helpmates, refuse to bring into this happy land families of more than seven, nine, eleven, or thirteen potential wage slaves.

But, behind the obdurate father, someone else is primarily to blame. Who? Unthinking Socialists, you would never guess. The modern politician!

Yes. “The child is no longer an asset; it is a financial burden," our titled sociologist discovers. Formerly “the man depended for comfort upon the extra earnings of his children, and both parents regarded sons and daughters as an insurance against starvation in their old age. Modern politicians have changed that condition of things." So now you know.

We Socialists pass nasty strictures upon old-age pensions, exposing their fraudulent pretence, insulting insufficiency, and rate saving reality. As usual, we only skim the surface, and it has been reserved for the McLaren genius to explore their true hideousness. Listen and perspire.

“The granting of Old Age Tensions is merciful. But the effect on population will be marked. As certainly as old age is sheltered from want without the aid of children, so certainly will families be smaller."

Shade of Malthus, painfully invoked from deserved oblivion! 'What a monstrous shape is taken by this demoniac gift of five bob a week at the long last of life! In the affluent independence of a secured future, tho workingman will override his wife's willingness, capitalism's claims, and nature's dictates. He will set at naught the laws of God and the exigencies of the labour-market. We see him, selfishly unproletaneous, march onward to his septuagenary, careless as to what becomes of the industrial reserve army, unmindful as to who will bear arms, do the dirty work, and create surplus-value. Rosebery's “end of all" is on the horizon. The cloud of the weekly dollar, albeit not so large as one's palm, portends a cataclysmal storm. 
A. Hoskyns

Summer School (1993)

From the September 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

A non-member’s personal report on the Summer School on Mental and Social Power at Fircroft College, 9-11 July 1993.

"This was a place and a time to talk, and talk we did. In meetings, in the dining room, in the bar, strolling on the lawn or through the orchard, or sitting beneath the huge copper beeches. It was a place and time for thought, and I find myself even now going back there in my mind and continuing our discussions.

We discussed personal therapies as a money-spinning racket, as enabling only adjustment to the inhuman demands of capitalism, or as a means of enforcing that adjustment if you include the electrodes and drugs of psychiatry.

On the other hand we considered more person-centred analysis or counselling as politically neutral but effective tools for unravelling the knots of personal distress.

There again, it was argued, can personal anxiety not be a spur to Socialist awareness? Equally, might it not be an obstacle? Why should personal awareness and growth be considered antithetical to the same process on the social level?

We debated alienation-from our work, the products of our work, from our fellows and from our own lives. Television was subjected to a close examination in this context. I think we were fairly unanimous that it is a powerful agent in capitalism's need to split us from social and personal reality. There was creative use of video material exposing television and the whole money culture.

Personally. I found this Summer School hugely rewarding and inspiring. There was talk of holding future ones at a less expensive and more spartan venue, but for myself I fell the surroundings of the old. slightly unkempt grounds quiet, civilised and very amenable to the atmosphere of serious, rational and respectful inquiry. At the same time there was humour and warmth. I identified with people talking about how difficult it is to go home after spending time with people who know what you mean. I for one am back in a world of lonely alienation. I think money should be abolished, but even more insanely, I WALK places. Here I am, walking by the wheat field, this is my food. I wish I could have a hand in growing it, harvesting it, milling it and baking the bread. But at least I can touch the rough heads of the grass that gives me life. Meanwhile perfectly healthy young men whizz by, sitting down in sort of slick, multi-aerialled spacecraft on wheels. These fields might just as well be on television as far as they were concerned. 

Finally, it was the subject matter of this Summer School which obliged me to get there. Income Support or no, the whole question of the relationship between the personal and public dimensions of our understanding is one which I feel to be crucial. Many Socialists are uncomfortable with any focus on this area, and even thoughtful psychotherapists are reluctant to look at social issues. I would welcome a closer understanding between these disciplines, and I am heartened to see evidence of this happening, not least at the Summer School, which exceeded my best expectations.

After all, in this society, we live, eat, work and consume, all for some purpose outside ourselves. So are we not brought up to serve goals outside ourselves, and do we not bring up our children in the same way? That there are hard questions goes a long way to explaining their absence from Socialist literature, but they are questions nonetheless which we are all called upon to address." 
Peter Rigg

Whitewash and be damned (1979)

From the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no more certain a betrayer of the truth about the condition of the working class under capitalism than the political journalist. And nowhere is this more true than of those writing for the ‘quality’ newspapers: The Guardian, The Observer; the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

This is not to suggest that journalists (or any others) who support the capitalist system should be denied a hearing. What is at issue is the exclusive nature of ‘editorial discretion’ and, consequently, the whole tone and content of the ‘serious’ newspapers — as contrasted with their loudly-trumpeted, clearly hypocritical posture as defenders of free speech.

The ‘heavies’, far from being the instruments of unfettered free speech their proprietors and editors would have us believe, are in no way different in their main aims and purposes from their bedfellows, the tabloids — blowzy tarts though they are. As with those publications, they must produce a profit; promote as assiduously as they can the political and economic interests of their owners; and fight off their increasingly carnivorous competitors. And to help readers swallow their capitalistic medicine, they must ensure that is is well sweetened. Hence the liberal supply of advertisements and features tailored to their ‘up-market’ requirements. (To go through The Observer's colour supplement is — for this ‘down-market’ contributor at least — a bit like window-shopping around Harrod’s with empty pockets on a wet Sunday afternoon.)

Long-standing familiarity with some of the ‘heavies’ has confirmed an unshakeable conviction that, considered as an exercise in democratic open-handedness, their political and economic ingredient constitutes a pitiful sham. It is the inevitable result of editorial policies as prohibitive as anything offered us by that other tightly controlled and highly effective filter of news and views, the BBC.

To take just one well-known political columnist (who can serve as a typical example of all practitioners of that mercenary art): Peter Jenkins, of The Guardian. What he consistently offers us, however elaborately, is a hollow apology for all the crass inefficiencies of an outdated and corrupt system in decline, coupled with an ill-concealed attack on millions of ordinary wage-earners who are struggling to maintain a falling standard of living. In short, Jenkins’ efforts over the years have proved to be no more than a dismal and manifestly bankrupt attempt to convince us that the symptoms of capitalism can be cured while ignoring the disease the capitalist system itself.

Then we have capitalist politics as expressed through editorials. An amusing example was provided by The Observer during the recent general election campaign. Condescending to present us all with a breakdown on any and every issue relating to the struggle of British capitalism to survive its own inadequacies, The Observer had earlier pretended to coyness as to what it intended to exhort us to do at the polling booths. (We were expected, no doubt, to hold our breaths.) As if it made a scrap of difference to the working class what The Observer thought; or, come to that, which of capitalism's would-be executives formed the next government. As the election has once again demonstrated, capitalist politics has reduced itself to the level of a Whitehall farce in which the participants share the same bed.

Should you - knowing your place - consider yourself a member of the self-styled middle classes (you are a grocer’s daughter, perhaps), you will probably prefer to slum it with Peregrine Worsthorne and the Daily Telegraph. That organ’s correspondence columns can read like a page out of Mary Whitehouse’s diary. And should you feel like indulging your more voyeuristic inclinations, then its super gossip columnist, who displays his shoddy merchandise over the pseudonym of Peterborough, is very definitely your man. Never a one to deny himself an opportunity for sycophantic name-dropping or sly innuendo, this urban scribe will happily conduct you around the world of the well-heeled: the current ‘in’ people, the power-holders and seekers, Belgravian socialites, senior churchmen, royal personages, and other parasites having no visible means of support. (It is instructive to note how few of Peterborough’s subjects are without that instantly recognisable imprimatur of the capitalists and their hangers-on: the ability to live high-off-the-hog without the need to resort to so sordid and time-wasting an activity as work.)

From the foregoing it may correctly be deduced that we cast a jaundiced eye over the ‘serious’ press. This is born of many years of critical observation, years during which ‘responsible’ journalists have consistently demonstrated, through wordy outpourings, their servile conformity to the requirements of their owners and the capitalist system in which they operate. And all this in the name of democracy and free speech.

Of course, such dogged loyalty must not be allowed to go unrewarded. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. One of them springs immediately to mind. By the time this article appears in print the recent general election campaign will have become history. Capitalism’s executive committee will have settled into its pile carpets and its chauffered limousines — all ready to dispense the inevitable patronage in one form or another to its more effective and obliging friends. We may be confident that among the earliest recipients will figure not a few of the most diligent of them all: those drawn from the upper echelons of Fleet Street.
Richard Cooper