Wednesday, March 30, 2016

To the workers of Northern Ireland (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the Ulster Defence Association urges you to civil war we urge you to think. For quite apart from the fact that the IRA and the UDA both display contempt for working-class lives and democratic consensus, there is a striking similarity in the basic political approach of each organisation.

Both base their political assumptions on a simplistic approach to such selected historical truths and half-truths as reflect their respective politico-religious tribalism — a tribalism originally fabricated to conceal the class interests of feudal landlords and. later, perform the same service for the divided, mutually-antagonistic interests of northern and southern Irish capitalism. This ignorance of the class forces that spawned the two factions leads to calls on the working class to slaughter each other for something which can never belong to them while capitalism is the accepted social system.

Thus, the April issue of Ulster, a UDA magazine, tells the so-called ‘“loyalist" workers that "the battle for Ulster is now on". In an article predicting a civil war within the next decade and suggesting that we might as well get the killing, maiming and home burning going as soon as possible — we are told that “This conflict is not about religious differences nor is it a struggle for civil liberties; it is the age-old battle for the kingdom of Ulster, its lands and its peoples". The passage goes on to tell us that the Gaelic Irish nationalists want to " . . force their foreign society and culture upon us".

This, then, is the premise on which the UDA bases its call for a civil war the identical premise, with reversed roles, on which the IRA maintains its anti-working-class campaign of violence. Let us look at this premise.

Who owns Ulster? Well, the UDA assure us that it is the Ulster people the people of the Shankill Road, of Glencairn, East Belfast. Ballymena and such other places where the UDA seek gun-fodder to fight their proposed civil war. Are these really the people who own Ulster? The slum dwellers, the Housing Executive tenants, the low-paid, the unemployed . . .  the motley assortment of oppressed and depressed workers? Were it not such absurdly dangerous nonsense it would be hilariously funny.

Ulster, like the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the so-called developed world, is part of a global capitalist society. Much of its resources are owned, legally and above board, by southern capitalists and northern capitalists have a substantial stake in commerce and industry south of the Border indeed. a great preponderance of the resources and wealth of both parts of Ireland are wholly owned, or economically dependent on. multinational capital.

This is the "foreign society" that dominates our lives now; that gives us our poverty, our slums, our unemployment and, ultimately, creates the material conditions that lead politically ignorant members of the working class to fight for the crumbs of an illusory better social existence. It is the same "foreign society" as would obtain in the unlikely event of an IRA victory despite the vapourings of Adams and his Sinn Fein playmates about what they call a "Socialist Republic". The only difference might then be the tribal identity of those holding the illusions and the new capitalist Republic — like the existing one — would quickly disillusion them.

That leaves "culture" - again, much loved by both the IRA and the UDA. whose erudition frequently transcends their regard for human life. Does the UDA fear lest the dole forms are in Irish? Capitalism imposes its own universal "culture" on the working class; a sameness that emerges out of mean living and the competition for existence; a shoddy "Cola" culture whose economic realities transcend and obliterate local custom and tradition. Throughout the entire world of capitalism a universal "culture" is promoted by the mass media to serve the commercial interests of capitalism. "Cultural" standardisation is cost effective; the media rules and is in the ownership and control of the capitalist class. If the UDA — again, like the IRA. but for different reasons — think that the Irish language would be of consequence to the real rulers in a capitalist united Ireland, they are as sadly deluded as the Provos. A sop to Irish — or, more pertinently. to the idea of a united Ireland — might serve the southern politicians when they are extracting votes from among the welter of ignorance and prejudice they have built up. But the Irish language, Irish culture, and even Irish unity offer only political dividends, not a reasonable return on investment. As such these things have the same low priority with the Irish Government as the hopes and fears of "loyalist" workers have with the British Government or the capitalists who really own Ulster.

Are we suggesting, then, to those workers who currently associate with tribal Protestantism that they have nothing to fear from a united Ireland? That they should withdraw their opposition to Republicanism and concede to a united Ireland? Or, should we be saying to those workers who support tribal Catholic nationalism that their interest lie in compliance with a Northern Ireland regime?

We offer no such advice to either section; what we ask both factions to do is to look at the facts. Look at the abundant evidence, from Sinn Fein and Unionist sources, supporting our contention that the situation in Ireland today was born out of the economic needs of capitalism earlier in the present century. The "Covenant of Blood", the Easter Rising, the Black-and-Tan war and the establishment of the Border were not events that were in any way related to the condition of life of the ordinary working people of this country, north or south. Catholic or Protestant.

None of these events occurred because you. a "Protestant" or "Catholic" worker, lived in poverty, or in a slum, or were unemployed or endured starvation wages. Nor did they happen to facilitate your notions of which historical fictions should be celebrated in season. Your welfare was not an issue, any more than was the system of social organisation that had a total bearing on your condition of life and that of your children. We workers. Catholics, Protestants and otherwise, were mere pawns in a game of power politics between contending sections of capitalism in Ireland.

The game itself was about the right of southern Irish capitalists to have political independence to legislate protectionist policies for their fledgling industries and the right of northern capitalists to retain their open access to the British market and sources of energy and raw materials. Our role was to provide both sides in this conflict between rival capitalists with muscle for the threat of violence, the horrible reality of violence; to provide the corpses and the jail fodder in a fight about our masters' interests.

Our capitalist masters, north and south, are united now; they have no basis for a conflict of interest, for a political border or the disease of bigotry and prejudice which they so assiduously nurtured in us. Now they want "reconciliation", co-operation and "bridge-building" while we carry the pain, the hurt, the ignorance and the prejudices inflicted by them. It is this ignorance, this bitterness. that both the UDA and the IRA would now exploit to pitch us into an utterly futile civil war.

Your birthright, like that of workers anywhere in capitalist society, from New York to Moscow, from London to Peking, is that of a wage slave. Our "right" is the right to try and sell our mental or physical ability to produce wealth to any employer who thinks he can get a return on investment. Our "right" is to accept the poverty of employment or the dire poverty of the dole. Our "right" is the freedom to do what we are told, whatever the colour of the rag that floats at the top of the political masthead.

There is an alternative to permanent want and insecurity. As capitalism is a world system, however, we cannot end it solely by our own efforts. Rather than butcher one another, we must band together with our fellow members of the working class in other countries to organise for a system in which the resources of the earth would be owned and democratically controlled by society as a whole and used to produce the things that all human beings need. This is the only action we urge you to consider.
Richard Montague

Strings attached (1985)

Book Review from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Aid - Rhetoric and Reality by Teresa Hayter and Catherine Watson. Pluto Press. 1985. £4.95.

This is a useful book provided that it is treated as a source of information only. It is a follow-up to Aid as Imperialism written by Teresa Hayter about ten years ago.

When talking of aid the authors are not referring to charity-type organisations such as Oxfam. These bodies do get a few lines but only to point out how small their contributions actually are. The concerns covered are the IMF, private banks, governments and above all the World Bank, on whose payroll Catherine Watson spent one year. Anyone who thinks these entities are a suite of giant Oxfams is in really great need of the contrary information provided here. In fact they are above all investment agencies concerned with getting a return on their capital outlay. Thus such "aid" is not channelled to the needy, but to capitalist bodies to generate profits out of the labours of the working class.

These loans are mainly made to emergent capitalist governments who see themselves in need of finance for the development of their own economies. Although the authors mention that debt rescheduling can be a profitable exercise for some, generally speaking harsh terms are imposed on defaulters who are less likely to be favoured should they apply again. In fact the lending organisations go considerably further than this and interfere freely in the management of recipient countries. This is in many cases deliberately designed to hamper independent development by rising capitalist groups. Aid is refused to industries which might in time compete with those in developed countries, and there is frequently an emphasis on developing the export of primary products like cocoa and rubber.

Although not without exceptions, a distinct bias against state financed ventures is noted. This may arise in part from prejudice on the part of US capitalists who provide the bulk of the funding. However as the thrust is not just to favour private capital but foreign private capital this is further evidence of an unwillingness to allow independent development. Many Third World countries choose the state capitalist route to allow a more rapid accumulation of capital. In any case if the "aid" organisations see their interests lying in a particular course of action the local capitalists have eventually to go along with this or do without. The net result is that these underdeveloped states remain in a neo-colonialist position, providing cheap raw materials for the more developed countries. The main beneficiaries in the recipient countries are local elites rather than the native capitalist class as a whole.

It is a reasonable deduction that a similar effort is being mounted by the Eastern bloc of capitalists to ensure that their interests prevail where their money is invested. The fact that "aid" from such quarters is similarly tainted is briefly mentioned in this book. However a credible account of the details of this would have to be written and published from that side of the capitalist fence and the dictatorships there are still too powerful to permit this.

A number of interesting examples are given to illustrate these themes, particularly in the second half of the book. It is a great pity, though, that with such a wealth of information at their fingertips, all basically confirming the socialist analysis of the capitalist system, the authors have not developed more political awareness. The left-wing moonshine they put forward has been exposed on many occasions. This is why we emphasise that this work should be treated as a source of information and not as a fount of political wisdom.
E. C. Edge

Sex and socialism (1985)

From the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

A tangled web of myths and double standards still enmeshes the subject of sex and sex roles in our “liberated” and developed form of capitalism. For centuries, there has been a peculiar tendency to assign to women one of two equally extreme and repellent roles, that of either a solely sexual being — “whore” — in her relationship with men (whether this has ever been an enjoyable sexuality is doubtful) or a de-sexed and “decent” wife and mother, glorified and put on a pedestal. This division of women into prostitutes and madonnas has been surprisingly persistent. Agony columns still contain letters from men finding it difficult to enjoy sex with their wives/cohabitees after the arrival of a baby, because they feel the woman is now on a higher plane of sanctified motherhood and should not be debased by primaeval lust. The notion that sex is sinful and that women are to blame when men succumb to “sinful” practices runs through the three religions originating in the Middle East: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Until recently it was only prostitutes who committed a punishable offence, not the men using them. Rape victims are still told they were “leading a man on” if they were not “appropriately dressed” at the time; it would seem that only a full purdah is good enough for our courts of law.
First, for most women sex is still a means to power. Achieving the conventional standards of beauty, for example, still holds the greatest promise of power available to most women, and so we cultivate and package our individual attractiveness in order to trade it for economic gain, advances in status, and love. This is true even in radical and even feminist circles.) Heterosexual relationships, no matter how “equal” in bed, still represent contact between members of a dominant and a subordinate group. Most women are still dependent on male favour for their economic survival, whether at home or work.
(The Politics of Sexual Freedom, Peace News, 25 March 1978.)
It would be misleading to put all men in the “dominant” group, if this dominant economic group is understood to be the capitalist class (which consists of men and women). However, a lot of men are dominant in a domestic situation in as much as they hold the purse strings and the women depending on them can be properly characterised as “slaves of slaves”. In preparation for eventually trading their attractiveness for economic “security”, girls are strongly encouraged to take an interest in clothes and make-up from an early age. Their faces, their bodies and their hair are never quite good enough to measure up to the stereotyped, eighteen-year-old, Page Three girl, so chemists and department stores are crammed full with remedies from chemical and cosmetic companies which make enormous profits.

Several myths concerning women’s sexuality persist. Women are supposed to need to be “in love” with a man to enjoy sex. This is a complete fallacy; women are as capable as men of separating sexual enjoyment from any deeper feelings. Another prevalent myth is that women are supposed to find sex repugnant during pregnancy and after giving birth. This may show individual variation, of course, according to how the pregnancy affects the woman and the difficulty of the birth. But largely this is another superstition tied in with the “purity of motherhood” myth.

As for men, another set of sex roles are inculcated by society and another set of myths hold sway. As the capitalist class relies mostly on men to kill and torture for them in war and to compete for the top jobs in the labour market, we would expect the myths to be of a kind that encourage the belief that men are inherently brutal, cruel and domineering. Robert Briffault, for instance, argues as follows in an otherwise interesting chapter on love in his book Sin and Sex:
Every expert in matters erotic knows that tenderness, affection, and even respect are sentiments opposed to the full biological operation of the predatory and pugnacious masculine sexual urges. Their fulfilment requires, in whatever measure, a reversion to the brutal, dominating attitude of the animal male. It requires in some degree the elimination of love.
Although there is no doubt about humans being part of the animal world, it is naive to think that animals capable of writing the sonnets of Shakespeare and developing the scientific theories of Einstein will not show more sophistication and nuances in their sexual play than two ferrets mating in a subterranean tunnel. In the case of ferrets, rough treatment of the female is necessary for ovulation; the biology of humans is completely different.

Although 40 per cent of the workforce are now women, who are making inroads into education and jobs that were formerly reserved for men, it is still men who are expected to “succeed” financially. Under capitalism, their whole self-esteem is so closely tied in with their earning capacity and their jobs that unemployment or failure to get promoted can result in serious depression or even suicide. Stresses and strains at work find their outlet in violence in the home; if a man can’t be the boss at work, he can at least increase his efforts at being the boss at home. In a relationship, men are expected to take the first step; sexually, they are expected to “perform” and emotionally they are expected to be severely deficient, not to show fear, to be brave, not to cry; in short, to avoid too much display of sensitivity.

Another explanation for the strange myths surrounding women’s sexuality was put forward by Garrett Hardin in an article in the Ecologist of January 1974, entitled “Parenthood: Right or Privilege?” The effect of prostitution on the one side and “decent” women remaining virgins until marriage would be reduced fertility. Apparently, large families of between 8—16 children were only common in America at the time of the settlers and in Europe in the 19th century. Before that, families of four children were more common than those of twelve:
Delayed marriage, lifetime celibacy, prostitution, venereal disease, and sanctions against bastards and the mothers of bastards constituted a powerful system of population control at the family level. To mitigate any one element in such a system was to diminish its effectiveness in keeping population under control.
The shift of opinion regarding sex outside marriage (as well as women’s “right” to sexual fulfilment on an equal level with men) which has taken place in the West over the last few decades has been revolutionary. It is worth remembering that only about 20 years ago, many doctors still would not give unmarried women the contraceptive pill for moral reasons. Being able to easily control their fertility has undoubtedly been a significant step for women although the real "sexual liberation” will not take place until we have a society where neither men nor women will be dependent on a dominant class for their survival.

The way “sexual liberation” has been exploited and to some degree created by capitalist society is explained in the following two quotes from The Politics of Sexual Freedom, by Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich:
      Obsession with sex can only be understood in the context of the extreme privatisation of people’s lives. Very few people have meaningful work-lives and many people have never experienced a supportive community or sense of collectivity in any realm. Unfulfilled needs for social relatedness, and for creativity, are chanelled into the zone of "private life”, where they can’t do any harm. (Just try demanding more creativity or richer social relations in most jobs.) The less the collectivity or social satisfaction experienced by people in the public realms of work and community, the greater the pressure on the sexual relationship to provide life with meaning.
. . . This new emphasis on sex can be seen as part of an attempt to shore up the monogamous marriage, or to free it up slightly, to save the family. What all this adds up to is that the human need for sex is made to bear the burden of all our bodily starvation for contact and sensations, all our creative starvation, all our need for social contact, and even our need to find a meaning in our lives. In the face of overwhelming alienation, the emphasis on sex is used to encourage people to individualise and trivialise their problems — looking for the cause of their unhappiness in their sex-life, rather than in the world around them. Of course, the dominant culture would like us to believe that we can achieve happiness through personal, sexual satisfaction. This is what it will strive to provide if it will keep us quiet. For women . . . especially, every effort will be made to channel our demands away from the social and political realm (where they cannot be satisfied without thorough-going social and economic changes) and back towards some version of a "liberated” private life. This is a trap.
In capitalism, sexuality is for sale, exaggerated in importance and manipulated in the interest of the state and capital. Europeans today are three times as likely to get divorced and twice as likely to have illegitimate children as they were a generation ago. Most divorce suits are now filed by women and it seems more than a coincidence that literature concerned with the sexual fulfilment in marriage has been on the increase at the same time. If marriages are breaking up, more marriage counsellors and sex therapists can be employed to encourage workers to get their sex lives in order, accept monogamy and stay together.

Humans need to satisfy their basic need for adequate food, clothing and shelter; for a happy and well-balanced emotional life they must also form deep and lasting relationships with other people. These need not be of a sexual nature (if sex is narrowly defined as sexual intercourse only), although at the earliest stage in our life a close, physical relationship with a grown-up is absolutely essential.

Today, a lot of misery is caused by people having to live together for economic reasons when they would rather not. Some people spend a lifetime wearing each other down mentally and emotionally, wasting their lives away in an undignified relationship. The worst irony is when some claim it to be an unconditional success that two people have stayed together for forty years; the quantity is praised, the quality is not questioned.

It is difficult to envisage the complete liberation of human relationships which socialism will bring about. Free access to everything that is produced will mean economic security for all members of society; independence of men and women from employers; economic independence of children from parents and of women from men. Nobody will have to accept an intolerable situation for the sake of satisfying their basic needs. Men and women in socialism will be able to enjoy their lives as full, not fragmented, human beings; satisfying not only their sexual, but all kinds of affectionate and other needs as they occur, not the least being the need to spend our time doing useful work in the companionship of friends.

In socialism, the stereotyped sex roles imposed on men and women under capitalism will disappear. These are equally damaging to both sexes as the similarities between them are far greater than the differences. Both have the same need for companionship with others, for expressing and receiving affection and for feeling secure, both have the same capacity for getting upset and hurt.

Socialism will probably not distinguish between heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual relationships. Everybody will be free to adopt the life style and sexual preference of their choice; the attitude to sex will be relaxed and in proportion to all the other things that make life pleasurable. Perhaps the designations “homosexual”, “heterosexual” and “bisexual” themselves will even disappear, as people will find it superfluous to distinguish between various kinds of loving relationships.

Relationships will be entered into freely, nobody will regard another human being as his or her property. It will be generally understood that when one partner does not want a relationship to carry on any more, the relationship has in fact ceased to exist and any feelings of jealousy are futile. The total shift of attitudes this involves, will be taking place while the ideas of socialism are growing and will make the acceptance of these ideas as well as others a gradual one before socialism is introduced. There is no reason to expect that people in socialism will be more "promiscuous” than they are today although this would not incite moral condemnation. On the other hand, because of our complicated mental make up, we are much more likely to form lasting relationships.
Torgun Bullen

Lost labour (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Left of Centre: European Labor Since World War II. by Adolf Sturmthal. University of Illinois Press

This book seeks to explain to Americans the evolution of the "labor movement" (Labour and Social Democratic parties, trade unions) in Europe since the war. and particularly in Britain, Germany. France and Italy Sturmthal's basic thesis is that these organisations have transformed themselves from working class parties committed to socialism into people's parties accepting a mixed economy.

We would express this change somewhat differently. Partly as a result of their experiences in governing capitalism and partly out of a desire to continue being given a chance to do so again, the Labour and Social Democratic parties of Europe abandoned their dogmatic (and mistaken) commitment to full-scale state capitalism as the solution to working class problems in favour of a more "moderate", "pragmatic" approach which accepts the status quo of a mixed private/state capitalist economy. At the same time they have ceased to project themselves as parties committed to giving priority to the furtherance of the interests of the industrial, manual section of the working class in favour of appealing to all electors. Vote-catching oblige.

All we can say is that this was a welcome development since the anti-working class (all those forced by economic necessity to work for a wage or salary) action of these parties were beginning to make the name of socialism stink among ordinary workers.

Sturmthal's book may interest American readers in the, for them, unfamiliar phenomenon of "socialist" parties and trade unions, but they need not believe all he says. As for instance when he writes (p. 120) that under Mitterrand in France "privately owned banks and insurance companies were transferred without compensation into public ownership". Apart from the fact that no insurance companies were nationalised in 1981/2, this will be news to Baron de Rothschild and his family who used the generous enough compensation payments (160 million francs, some £16m) they received for the purchase by the state of their private bank to set up another profit-making financial institution.
Adam Buick

Ice Cream Man Cometh (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the night of April 16 last, petrol was poured through the letterbox of a top floor flat in Glasgow and then set on fire. The Doyle family was trapped in the blaze and six of its members, aged between 18 months and 50 years, died. Summing up at the end of what became Scotland's worst multiple murder trial, the judge provided the convenient scapegoat for the horrific incident: "No decent person could be other than appalled by such dastardly deeds. Those who set fire to the flat were wicked, depraved. inhuman and evil" (Scotsman, 9 October 1984).

But were these men just wanting to kill without reason? Evidently not, as they had had plenty of opportunities to do so simply with a shotgun and, according to one of the two men accused, the fire was only meant as "a frightener which went too far" (Scotsman, 20 September 1984). Indeed the court, in its hurry to find someone to blame, ignored the fact that people are not in real control of this competitive system: 
There was nothing wrong with competition during the normal dealings in day-to-day business. But when this developed into some kind of feud between rivals in which criminal offences were committed, it was totally unacceptable. The danger of such a matter is that it can escalate out of all proportion.
(Sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Scotsman, 3 August 1984.)
To find the real reason we have to look beyond that simplistic excuse "human nature" and examine a more dominant factor in determining the everyday actions of people — their everyday environment. All the time, people find that this society denies them access to food, clothing and housing by such things as cash registers, security guards and rent demands. The main concern for most people therefore is how they get money and how much they get — in the case of the two men convicted, they sold ice cream from a Fifti Ices van.

The events finally leading to the six week trial started in the summer of 1982 in the Cartyne and spread to other housing schemes in Glasgow. According to the Guardian, “Trouble began in Garthamlock when an ice cream van operating under the name of Fifti Ices appeared in September last year. It invaded the patch which a rival ice cream company, Marchetti Brothers, had held as a virtual monopoly for years (11 October 1984). This rivalry soon led to a spate of intimidation and violence, including a shotgun being fired at a 15-year-old salesgirl. However. according to the wife of one of the convicted "the people of Garthamlock wanted another van in the area because the Mar- chetti's was . . . overcharging them" (Scotsman 2 August 1984). The couple hired vans on hire-purchase from Fifti Ices and were able to undercut their rivals by selling stolen cigarettes and other goods. The traders get about 10 per cent of the weekly turnover which would rarely be more than £200. the rest going to the companies. Marchetti Brothers, on the other hand, by leasing all their 37 vans on a week-to-week basis only, also ensure that the traders buy all their stocks from them.

According to the Marchetti Brothers' accountant however, the subsequent loss of business from threats, abuse of customers and the “wedge" achieved by their rivals, had moved the company's profitability out of the black and into the red (Scotsman, 4 September 1984). This was obviously a far more serious situation than a few incidents of violence, so the firm put a third man into the battlefield. The unfortunate new employee — Andrew Doyle — was presumably chosen because, as the Glasgow Herald described him. he was "a young man of massive appearance but quiet disposition" (11 October 1984). In court, he was described as . . . not a hassle man. He was just a young boy from a nice family (Glasgow Herald, 7 September 1984). At one point in the war. according to the Herald, "the beleaguered company secretary of the van firm. Marchetti Brothers, asked a colleague What is it going to take to stop these people . . .  a body?"' But these six deaths have only stopped the activities of the men convicted. A social system based on conflict will not be restricted by the charred remains of a few human beings. Even as they were being sentenced, other members of their team were putting further ice cream vans on the road. This is despite the fact that "ever since the fire which killed the Doyles . . . Marchetti Brothers have tried to re-establish themselves in Haghill" (Glasgow Herald, 11 October 1984).

The war, it would seem, must go on. This is not an unfortunate little incident, a sad aberration in an otherwise acceptable society. St Tropez had its own ice cream war fought on the beaches of the Riviera this summer, with French police arresting one man for planting explosives in the sand ("Beaches mined in ice cream war", Guardian, 23 July 1984), and all over the world the same conflicts arise, initiated by the rivalry of a system of society in which access to wealth is controlled by a minority in conflict. rather than by the whole of humanity in co-operation.

But of course those who stand to gain most profit out of these battles are not those who do the fighting. Quite the opposite would seem to be true in this case. The Glasgow Herald considered it "a matter of considerable embarrassment" that the owners of the two rival companies were related through marriage and enjoyed harmonious relations. The fighting and dying then is left for the workers, whether it is Andrew Doyle or the two would-be entrepreneurs whose only mistake would appear to be that they did the job themselves. In fact, while denying in court that he was overheard in a pub offering "an easy £300" for help to "torch" the Doyle house, one said "if I wanted somebody assaulted. I would assault him . . ." (Glasgow Evening Times. 28 September 1984).

All violence under capitalism, from world war to muggings, is for property — be it the land and wealth within borders or the notes in a pensioner's purse. In each instance can be seen the effects of a society based on control and powerlessness; ownership and non-ownership. Capitalist society is no innocent bystander but rather the main determinant of human behaviour.
Brian Gardner

God returns to the White House (1984)

From the December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 1984 US Presidential Election campaign, which seemed to have been going on for ever, is at last over. For some of the hopefuls who fell by the wayside, such as Gary Hart, the run up to 1988 has already begun. (The BBC 9 o'clock News on October 29 called this Life after Mondale — where was the life with Mondale you may ask!) The overwhelming victory of Ronald Reagan had appeared inevitable all through and there is little evidence that the alternative strategics suggested for the Democrats (Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition" being the front runner) would have produced a better result.

Reagan’s victory clearly owed nothing to the brainpower of the candidate; he was clearly reluctant to engage in even the two so-called debates with his opponent. Indeed his performance, stripped of its multi-million dollar showbiz trappings, was more akin to "The President’s Brain Is Missing", that brilliant lampoon from Central TV’s Spitting Image, than the wise pontifications we are taught to expect from those "born to rule”.

Equally it could not be put down to the promises made in the Republican election platform, at least not the sort that appear to offer immediate benefits to workers, such as increased welfare spending or "fair fares" on public transport. Such apparent concern for the workers' plight was noticeably lacking, and any promises made were to increase rather than make good the cuts already made in this area. The charity soup-kitchen and in a few places even the parish workhouse have reappeared as features of American working class life. How can a party with such a record and campaigning on such a platform win such an overwhelming victory? A glance at the areas of the country which voted Republican tells us that very few of those workers who are dependent on the "welfare" programme did vote for Reagan, either in 1980 or this year. A strategy which writes these votes off is certainly brutally cynical, but a winner none the less.

A radio commentator at the Republican convention in Dallas in August put this particular brand of cynicism down to what he termed “compassion fatigue". His viewpoint was that capitalists (not only American ones, of course) have been getting so fed up with the welfare handouts they have been forced to give that they are now flatly refusing to finance any more. Despite all these apparent handouts, however, the queue of the needy is longer than ever. It is very difficult for any party trying to run capitalism, even on a "radical" reformist basis, to counteract this without being wide open to counter-attacks alleging "profligacy”.

Having seen on TV excerpts from the Democrats’ convention in San Francisco in July, it was natural to speculate on how much worse the Republicans could be when their turn came. In the event they comfortably exceeded the grimmest expectations with a degrading display of sycophancy and puerile hero-worship that beggared belief. An especially disturbing thought was that if Reagan’s campaign managers had thought that votes would have been lost by all the ballyhoo they could easily have toned it down. They didn't and their judgement has been proved right. The Times (29 October 1984) referred to his luck with the present trends in the American economy (and luck it is, as capitalism cannot be "managed”) and said: "The other thing most Americans clearly like about Reagan is his unashamed patriotism". Sad as we are that so many workers think this way, this figures. Indeed it parallels the Falklands campaign of two years ago and the way Thatcher used it to improve her poll ratings. That it is Reagan rather than the party he leads that projects this image is shown by the election results viewed as a whole. The other Republican candidates for office had at best only moderate success in clinging to Reagan's coat tails.

Another feature of Ronald Reagan is his tendency to treat really serious issues in a light-hearted vein. This was highlighted by his "joke", cracked during a radio microphone test, about ordering the bombing of Russia. The following extract from The Times says: In a letter due to appear in the September 24 issue of Forbes magazine, Mr Reagan writes: "Granted. I shouldn’t have said it, even though I was sure I was saying it only to the several people who know me well and with whom 1 work. The damage, if any, was due to the worldwide press dissemination."

We should not forget either the union bashing tactics of his administration, typified by the smashing of the air traffic controllers strike. Union membership is now only 18 per cent of the total labour force. Even this does not appear to have lost him votes in the present political climate.

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Dallas convention was the light it shed on the activities and influence of the movement known as Moral Majority. This body is one of a number of overlapping forces consisting of politically-minded fundamentalists (Protestants who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible). Part of their aims is revealed by a new one of the brood, the American Coalition for Traditional Values. The Times comments: “The title says it all: ‘The coalition parades a strong ‘pro-family' line, is vehemently anti-abortion. wants prayer in school, an emphasis on strong defence and stricter welfare policies. It is opposed to homosexual rights and is against the Equal Rights Amendment that would cement equal rights for women into the constitution.’” (21 August 1984)

Moral Majority, the best financed and most visible of the interlocking groups, is led by Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister from Lynchbury, Virginia. After a short period of gathering momentum they surfaced in 1980 at two pre-election rallies. In April a “Washington for Jesus" event had overt political overtones. In the late summer a rally in Texas was attended by Ronald Reagan in person, to endorse the aims of the movement. The day after the 1980 election Moral Majority claimed credit for supporting Reagan and backing some extreme right wing candidates who won election to Congress. They argued that in the two previous presidencies there had been a moral decline which had seen "liberals, humanists and leftists conspire to take God out of public life”. (“The New Christian Right"—article in Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1981 by Martin E. Marty.) Although a religious man himself, Marty easily disposes of Majority’s claim to speak for any silent majority which they may say exists, and mentions highly personalised scandals in which some of its prominent members have been associated.

Between elections the efforts of Majority and their allies carried on at a more local level. The Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year 1982 reported "an alarming increase in demands for the removal of books and material from schools and libraries. Many of the books being questioned dealt with American history, feminism and racial attitudes." The Majority also claimed to be monitoring television programmes allegedly for “sexual, profane and violent content”.

The election campaign of 1984 found Moral Majority in the Republican party’s machinery and working hard to register "Christian" voters. Jerry Falwell delivered the benediction at Reagan's formal nomination, his “coronation” as some dubbed it. Support for Majority’s views has been expressed during the campaign by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, through the Archbishop of New York’s intervention against Geraldine Ferraro on the abortion issue, and the Mormon Church. At Dallas, The Times (21 August 1984) reported, “some observers are concerned at what they regard as a mix of politics and religion that is growing uglier”. Four days later the same newspaper was clearly disturbed at the surfacing of “a style of anti-communism that the Republicans have not worn since 1964". The Republican Party may not have been responsible for dubbing Russia as "socialist”, but they have certainly taken advantage of the seeds of confusion sowed by the Bolsheviks to commit some monstrous crimes of their own. We need only recall the activities of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Un- American Activities Committee. It appears all too likely that another attack of this deadly disease is imminent.

All this suggests that there is a considerable danger of something akin to the Fascism of the 1930s emerging in the USA. It is to be hoped that American workers will not make the mistake of thinking that things could have been much different had Mondale been elected president. The same forces would have exerted the same pressures at local and national levels as at present. The hope lies in a greater participation by the American working class in the democratic process, to establish socialism.
E.C. Edge

Darwin and socialism (1984)

From the November 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The viewpoint that discerns and identifies an historic linkage between Charles Darwin and Karl Marx in regard to their respective, earthshaking theories seems not to be obvious to scientists, generally, in our times. Most scientific people, to the extent that they do attempt analysis of our social system, are no more cognisant of the traditional Marxist critique than is the bulk of the population. When it comes to political science, their thinking is dominated by the ruling class approach to the extent of permitting their political views to influence, or colour, their research efforts. In any case, a century and a quarter after the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species it would not be easy to find scientists, other than an occasional Marxist, who do see a connection between scientific evolution and scientific socialism.

This was not always the case and in the decades immediately following the publication of Darwin’s monumental work in 1859. there was frequent and heated debate among scientists over the question. For example in 1877, Ernest Haeckel, the famed German embryologist, delivered an eloquent address in which he defended and propagated Darwinism which was, at that time, under violent attack. A few days afterwards Virchow, the noted pathologist, assailed the Darwinian theory of organic evolution raising a terrible cry of alarm: “Darwinism leads directly to socialism".

The German Darwinians, headed by Haeckel and Oscar Schmidt, immediately protested, insisting that Darwinism is in direct, open and absolute opposition to socialism. In the words of Schmidt, writing in the Ausland of 27 November 1877
If the Socialists were prudent they would do their utmost to kill, by silent neglect, the theory of descent, for that theory most emphatically proclaims that the socialist ideas are impracticable.
And Haeckel wrote (in Les preuves du transformisme, Paris, 1879. p. 110 et seq):
. . . there is no scientific doctrine which proclaims more openly than the theory of descent that the equality of individuals, toward which socialism tends, is an impossibility; that this chimerical equality is in absolute contradiction with the necessary and, in fact, universal inequality of individuals . . .
In the ever popular misconception of Marxist goals. Haeckel portrayed socialism as a demand for “equal rights, equal duties, equal possessions and equal enjoyments". And having erected this straw man (one need not elaborate on the vast difference between the concept of equality in work and rewards on the one hand and a society based on from each according to one’s ability to each according to one’s needs, the societal goal of socialism, on the other) the scientist demolished it with an outpouring of words calculated to demonstrate that Darwin’s theory of descent proved that there can be no scientific validity to the “socialist goal" of equality in work or reward. In fact it proved, he argued. that the tendency of society is not even toward democracy — let alone socialism — that it can only be evolving in the direction of aristocracy!

But that was all argued out a long time ago and little if anything seems now to be said about a relationship between Darwinism and human societies. The Darwin theory has long since graduated to the status of an accepted fact by all but a minority of die-hard fundamentalists whose effect on the machinery of capitalist society is minimal at most. The capitalist class has long since accepted Natural Selection. To them, perhaps, it also provides a logical explanation for their own status; they, the "fittest", have survived the no-holds-barred struggle.

In point of fact, Darwinism has nothing to do with democracy, aristocracy, socialism, or any other sort of social system. The theory of Natural Selection, no doubt, was somewhat applicable to primitive humans but once they got organised into civilised societies (slavery, serfdom, capitalism) their survival depended more on human-made factors than natural. True, there is a ferocious competition among members of the same class — for profits or for jobs — as well as relentless contention between the classes (workers against capitalists) in capitalist society. But that is a by-product of this social order and will become non-existent in a society based on common ownership and free access to all wealth.

But aside from this factor, scientists for the most part have gone overboard on Natural Selection. As Darwin also pointed out, human beings have always been social animals with the propensity for mutual aid. At the end of Chapter 11 of The Descent of Man he wrote:
The small strength and speed of man, his want of natural weapons, etc are more than counterbalanced, firstly, by his intellectual powers, through which he has formed for himself weapons, tools, etc, though still remaining in a barbarous state, and. secondly by his social qualities which lead him to give and receive aid from his fellow-men. No country in the world abounds in a greater degree with dangerous beasts than Southern Africa; no country presents more fearful physical hardships than the Arctic regions; yet one of the puniest races, that of the Bushmen, maintains itself in Southern Africa. as do the dwarfed Esquimaux in the Arctic regions . . . (p.333, Modern Library ed.)
So much for what Haeckel had to say — especially on that “pitiless" struggle for existence that supposedly has always taken place among the human race. Even among the most primitive it was not that pitiless — according to Darwin and Mutual Aid naturalists such as Peter Kropotkin. Populations among the more primitive have always been small — whereas in civilised societies, despite the most horrible hardships, death-dealing implements and pollutants unimagined by primitives, populations have continued to multiply. Mutual aid does play an important role, even under advanced capitalism.

But what of the socialists and their reaction to Darwinism? Beginning with Marx himself, there was tremendous enthusiasm. Darwin’s book was published in the same year as Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In the words of John Spargo of the old Socialist Party of America:
. . . Marx regarded it as a fortunate coincidence that his own book appeared in the same year as that of Darwin. He recognised at once the importance and merit of Darwin's work, and at once brought it to the attention of his fellow radicals at their meetings. Liebknecht has told us how for months the Marx circle spoke of nothing except the value of Darwin’s work. With great frankness Marx likened his own work in the sociological field to that of Darwin in the biological field, and he was always manifestly pleased when others made the comparison Once, in the late sixties, when it had become commonplace in Marxian circles. W. Harrison Riley, editor of the International Herald, made the now familiar comparison and Marx replied: "Nothing ever gives me greater pleasure than to have my name thus linked with Darwin’s. His wonderful work makes my own absolutely impregnable. Darwin may not know it, but he belongs to the Social Revolution”. (Karl Marx: His Life and Work, B. W Huebsche, NY. 1910. p 200)
It did not take long for Darwin to indicate that he was not anxious to be thought of as belonging to “the Social Revolution". Isaiah Berlin writes, in his Karl Marx, His Life and Environment:
(Marx) offered to dedicate his Capital to Darwin, for whom he had a greater intellectual admiration than for any other of his contemporaries. regarding him as having, by his theory of evolution and natural selection, done for the morphology of the natural sciences what he himself was striving to do for human history.
But Darwin was apparently not interested in being identified with a revolutionary socialist. He must have realised that his own book would give him more than enough troubles as it was, so:
(he) hastily declined the honour in a polite, cautiously phrased letter, saying that he was unhappily ignorant of economic science, but offered the author his good wishes in what he assumed to be their common end — the advancement of human knowledge. (A Galaxy Book, NY, Oxford University Press. 1959. p.232)
We should also have a brief look at what Engels had to say on the subject. In his Anti-Duhring, he devotes some eleven pages to a defence of Darwin against the attack by Herr Eugen Duhring, a German “reformer” of socialism:
The main reproach levelled against Darwin is that he transferred the Malthusian population theory from political economy to natural science, that he was held captive by the ideas of an animal breeder, that in his theory of the struggle for existence he pursued unscientific semi-poetry, and that the whole of Darwinism, after deducting what had been borrowed from Lamarck, is a piece of brutality against humanity. (Foreign Languages Publishing House. Moscow. 1954. p.97)
A little later Engels writes:
Now Darwin would not dream of saying that the origin of the idea of the struggle for existence is to be found in Malthus. He only says that his theory of the struggle for existence is the theory of Malthus applied to the animal and plant world as a whole. However great the blunder made by Darwin in accepting the Malthusian theory so naively and uncritically, nevertheless anyone can see at the first glance that no Malthusian spectacles arc required to perceive the struggle for existence in nature — the contradiction between the countless host of germs which nature so lavishly produces and the small number of those which ever reach maturity, a contradiction which in fact for the most part finds its solution in a struggle for existence — often of extreme cruelty . . . the struggle for existence can take place in nature, even without any Malthusian interpretation. For that matter, the organisms of nature also have their laws of population, which have been left practically uninvestigated, although their establishment would be of decisive importance for the theory of the evolution of species. But who was it that lent decisive impetus to work in this direction too? No other than Darwin, (page 99)
In retrospect one can understand the excitement of revolutionaries like Marx and Engels, in the latter half of the 19th Century, over a book such as Origin of the Species. The basic message of Darwinian evolution, they were certain, would sweep the world and with the spread of scientific information superstition would be forced into swift retreat. The superstition of religion had been, historically, a major pillar of capitalism. Origin of the Species knocked the very props from under it. And the general acceptance of biological evolution must, they thought, lead inexorably to an acceptance of social evolution and the principles of socialism.

To put it mildly, the pioneers of scientific socialism were over-optimistic. On the one hand, in these last two decades of the 20th Century, we have a battle still being waged between so-called Scientific Creationists and Evolutionists while religions such as Roman Catholicism and various Protestant denominations are able to teach Darwinian evolution in their Church-owned schools of higher learning with no apparent damage to the future stability of their adjoining temples of superstition. On the other hand, some nations of state capitalism such as Russia. China and North Korea, have demonstrated that they are able to carry on the basics of a capitalist economy with little more than a limited toleration of religion — or no apparent organised religion whatever.

So the general acceptance of Darwinism in modern biology, even in the “communist" and “socialist" worlds has added little to the basic political understanding of the workers.

Immigrant struggles (1984)

Book Review from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Immigrants and the Class Struggle: the Jewish Immigrant in Leeds, 1880-1914. Joseph Buckman. (Manchester University Press. £19.)

This excellent and readable book examines the economic and social life of the Jewish immigrant community in Leeds between 1880 and 1914. The community comprised refugees from Russia and other parts of Europe, who were to provide a cheap and pliable source of labour for the tailoring and slippermaking trade in Leeds and elsewhere. By the use of Yiddish sources and untapped statistical material such as factory reports, a vivid picture emerges of the social and economic relations in the Jewish community over this period.

The author argues that far from being one happy family, the Jewish immigrant community developed class antagonisms resulting from the capitalist mode of production. Buckman is highly critical of the commonly held view that the growth of the Leeds factory system in the tailoring industry led to progressive improvements for the workers. The alien tailoring trade was subordinate to the indigenous factory system, which was to undergo deskilling, division of labour and cheapening of products. Under such conditions and with for the most part a hostile host society, it was to take 35 years of struggle — until January 1912 — before they achieved a reduction in their working day to nine hours. In the tailoring trade socialists, anarchists and progressive trade unionists made some real gains in workers' organisation but the slipper trade over this period was a different story.

The forces driving wage labour against capital in a relentless competition for profits involved the intensification of working conditions in doomed pre-industrial type of manufacture. Despite valiant attempts to organise workers in the slipper trade in Leeds between 1896 and 1903, the wages had fallen by 50 per cent and a horrific 18 hour day was commonplace. Faced with the hopeless task of struggling against the machine, the Jewish workers replaced the host workers and eventually slippermaking in Leeds declined.

This book shows that capitalism is synonymous with suffering and misery. However, the class which does all the useful work in society has the power to organise for their own emancipation and put an end to sweat shops and the other misery of the wages system once and for all. 
W. McLellan

Party News (1984)

From the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Party’s presence at the rally to mark the 150th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs was very productive: 170 July Socialist Standards were sold, 1,000 leaflets on the subject of the Tolpuddle martyrs were distributed, and dozens of back-issues of the Standard were given out.

New Party groups have been formed in Bournemouth and East Anglia and both are on course to do well in the effort to expand membership. It is hoped that there will be a new group in Beddau before too long and Doncaster group has been stepping up its activity recently. Any readers in these areas who would like to get involved are urged to get in touch with the addresses listed on the inside back page.

Some members of Manchester branch are working on plans to carry out a campaign of activity in Yorkshire, probably in September. Readers interested in being involved — or who have suggestions about places in Yorkshire where meetings could be organised — are urged to tell Manchester branch, either in writing or by telephone.

Any members or supporters of the Party who are going to college or university in September/ October and would like to be put in touch with local members are urged to approach the Propaganda Committee at Head Office. October, when university terms begin, is an ideal time for socialist activity and any members or supporters who are interested in fixing up a meeting will be given assistance by the Party.

It is probable that there are some regular readers of the Standard who have friends who would be willing to become subscribers. One way to boost the sales of the Socialist Standard is by persuading one or two others to subscribe. Other ways of boosting circulation would be to persuade your local library to subscribe, to arrange for your trade union branch to subscribe, or to give a subscription to a friend (or enemy for that matter) as a gift. Any information from readers about bookshops willing to sell the Standard would be most welcome.

Any readers wanting specific news about activity in their area are requested to approach their nearest branch or group or to write to Head Office.
Steve Coleman

SWP: recruiting sergeant for fascism (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1977 the fascist National Front received 119,000 votes in London. They were talking about becoming "the third major party" and silly little men in Nazi uniforms were dreaming of re-enacting the Third Reich while skinheads roamed the streets believing that racist violence was being legitimised through the ballot box. At the time the Socialist Party did the only thing politically conscious workers can do: exposed the dogmas of the NF as dangerous illusions which are part of the sick ideology of capitalism.

By the early 1980s the NF was a spent force. Its various leaders were busy stabbing each other in the backs; the neo-Nazis were squabbling among themselves as to who would play Hitler when the big day came, and Fuehrer-in-waiting Tyndall left to form his own tin-pot outfit. Most of the thugs who had provided the muscle behind the fascist re-emergence in the late 1970s either joined the British Movement (the party for those who fail the entrance exam into the NF) or fell back into political apathy. By 1983 the NF vote had dropped to a mere 17,000 in the whole of London—102,000 less than six years earlier. Martin Webster, the one-time tactical commander of the party, is in the process of taking the NF leadership to court because they have expelled him and he does not want to go. In short, at the beginning of 1984 the NF was falling to pieces.

Two years ago the Front sent Patrick Harrington, their student organiser, to recruit members within the North London Polytechnic, where he was supposedly studying philosophy. Clearly, he was not there for the scholarship, as he did not even take the trouble to sign up as a member of the library. His aim was to recruit members to the NF. As democrats, we can no more object to the spreading of overtly racist views than we can to the expression of other anti-socialist ideas. Needless to say, that is not the view of fascists.

The Socialist Workers' Party does not aim to recruit members by talking to them about socialism. Their theoretical whizz-kid, Alex Callinicos has referred to such activity as "abstract propagandism" and accused the Socialist Party of this alleged tactical error (see "Politics or Abstract Propagandism?" International Socialism, Winter 1981). According to the SWP, the movement for "socialism” (a term about which they are not clear) must be built up by winning workers to the cause on the basis of single issues. The SWP prides itself on its "tactics". So, when it was discovered that an NF recruiter was at work in the North London Poly, the self-appointed vanguard saw an ideal opportunity to do some recruiting for themselves.

Now, one point must be made clear: the fear of students—especially blacks—that Harrington was in the poly to compile hit-lists of those expressing views unacceptable to the fascists is quite probably justified. The NF in Islington, where the polytechnic is based, have a reputation for intimidating their enemies: arson attacks on anti-racists have taken place; socialists selling this journal in Chapel Street market have been intimidated; and not very long ago a woman working in The Other Bookshop in Islington was attacked by fascists and suffered a fractured skull. Without doubt, the NF does compile hit-lists and activists like Harrington are potentially dangerous. But the fact is, there is no evidence that Harrington recruited a single member into the NF during his two years at PNL or that any hit-lists were compiled.

The SWP were not prepared to be confused by the facts. They saw Harrington as an "issue" around which they could recruit members. So, a mass picket was organised to prevent Harrington from entering the polytechnic building and after a few days they organised an occcupation. This was precisely the publicity Harrington and his dwindling party were looking for. He was presented by the media as the persecuted underdog; the NF was able to raise the issue of “civil liberties” which it clearly does not believe in granting to others; and, worst of all, the concept of “socialist activity" was linked to the suppression of free speech. No wonder the press were eager to give publicity to the SWP's antics.

The National Front has been given a new lease of life as a result of the undemocratic. adventurist, anti-socialist tactics of the SWP and their foolish allies. When students are shown on the television waving placards stating "FASCISTS DON'T DESERVE AN EDUCATION" we have one answer: fascists, along with all other politically ignorant workers who support the continuation of capitalism, need to be educated. If the battle is fought in the arena of working-class ideas the fascists will be defeated utterly. By adopting the methods of fascism to fight fascism the SWP distort and damage the name of socialism.

Socialists will continue to present the case for a society without nations and without classes. We will not involve ourselves in the tactical manoeuvres of the infantile Left, who are opposed to the task of winning workers to socialism by open and democratic means.

Ironically, the National Front and the Trotskyist Left are united on many issues. Both want to nationalise the banks; both support import controls; both want to pull out of the EEC. both want American military bases off “British soil"; both believe in "smashing opponents". Both will get occasional boosts in their membership campaigns as a result of publicity from momentary campaigns, but they are destined to remain insignificant because they arc pro-capitalist political factions which do not suit the current needs of capitalism. Neither the pure state capitalism of the Left nor the corporatism of the fascists arc likely to ever be adopted by the capitalist class.

The end result of the SWP's tactical brilliance is that Harrington is still attending the polytechnic—students who tried to have him expelled feel defeated because they acted too soon, before there was evidence to remove him—and the local NF has received some useful publicity and. in all probability, an increase in membership. And the SWP lecture us about tactics!
Steve Coleman

Sun, sand, sea . . . and slavery (1984)

From the June 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The holiday season is here again and for a short while workers can escape from the realities of life into the illusion of freedom. Thus ends a process which began last Boxing Day before that other great commercial event, Christmas itself, was half over, when the television screens, backed up by the newspapers and magazines—not to mention the glossy brochures— began to sell holidays. For today holidays are big business and the form which they take reflects the society of which they are a part.

The modern holiday is divorced from everyday life, for people drop everything and go away. This reflects the way in which life in industrial society is departmentalised with work, pleasure and personal interests all in separate packages. It was not always so, for holidays in the medieval world were different. They were numerous, but they fitted into normal life and were not the complete stoppages that we know today. Work had to be done, animals had to be fed and everyday tasks performed. What is more, holidays fitted into the natural pattern of the year. Christmas lasted for twelve days, but came at a time of year when very little work could be done on the land. Lent was a time of fasting, but by that time supplies were anyway running low and the new season’s growth had not yet begun. Holidays were mainly religious, often pagan with christian overtones—ancient rituals to placate the gods or earth spirits to bring clement weather and good harvests. Only the gods and spirits had been updated as saints or demons. Thanks for a good harvest, successfully gathered, were both offered to the same deities and it was a pretty rowdy affair. As early as the ninth century the Saxon King Edgar attacked the drunkenness and debauchery and commanded that all should pray devoutly. This cry was repeated down the ages, so it could not have had much effect. Every Sunday after mass was a holiday largely given up to sports, which were often cruel.

The growth of towns and cities gave holidays a new form which has some resemblance to the modern Bank Holiday. But they also had a serious purpose, were often centred around sheep and horse fairs, wool and cloth fairs— the mediaeval version of a modern trade exhibition. The greatest and most famous of these was the cloth fair of St. Bartholomew, held every year in London’s Smithfield which brought clothiers from all over Britain. Funfairs began as a sideline to the main show but as time passed the funfair took over as the main attraction. Games of all kinds were played but the most popular of all entertainments was a public execution and if it were of a famous person, such as Charles 1 or the Earl of Strafford, it would command vast crowds.

With the development of capitalism and the industrial revolution the old holidays were gradually whittled away until today only two ancient holidays—Christmas Day and Good Friday—remain. Puritan attacks on all forms of enjoyment spearheaded this, but the grim poverty produced by the new factory system made the taking of time off financially impossible for vast numbers of workers. Even Christmas declined. A favourite scene on Christmas cards and in magazines is the stage coach with snow-covered inns and jolly landlords by blazing log fires. In fact, during the 18th and 19th centuries the celebration of Christmas

reached its lowest ebb and it took the efforts of people like Charles Kingsley, Dickens and Prince Albert to reverse the trend. Dickens’ sentimental novel A Christmas Carol, with its servile hero Bob Cratchit, was pro-Christmas propaganda, promoting the idea that if people loved each other on this one day they would carry on throughout the year. There is no need to comment on the success of that one, but it did have the effect of restoring Christmas. Most of the ancient customs and ceremonies now celebrated actually died out in the last century, only to be restored when the world of which they were a part had completely vanished.

While the working-class holidays declined the wealthy began what was to become the modern holiday. First they went to the Spas, to take waters which were supposed to have medicinal qualities, successors perhaps to the holy wells of earlier times. The spa’s virtues were usually exaggerated, but the wealthy flocked there to drink and bathe in the waters, mainly in an effort to offset the effects of over-eating and over-drinking. As a result the spas boomed into fashionable resorts: assembly rooms, coffee houses, libraries, concert halls and, of course, shops, grew up around the pump rooms and baths. Elegant and expensive houses with parks and gardens were laid out. Fashionable society congregated there, followed by others hoping to cash in on the scene. The next step was the development of a new kind of spa. the seaside, with sea water taking the place of the medicinal springs. It was thought that to drink and bathe in sea water was beneficial to health and the sea, which had been shunned as hostile and dangerous slowly became attractive. Revolting concoctions like sea water mixed with milk, or with port, were advocated. The claims were even more exaggerated than those for spa water, but they were believed.

Today people go abroad to the Mediterranean or the Bahamas in search of the sun although it was not on sun-drenched beaches that the practice of sea bathing began but here, at Scarborough and Brighton, where the wind can cut like a knife—and not only in summer, for there was bathing as late as November. The original aim was not pleasure but health. (Sunbathing was not then popular; begun by the Italian Fascists in the 1920s, it has become a mania as great as any which has gone before. To the Georgian sunburn was vulgar.) Small ports and fishing villages, whose main industry until then had been smuggling, began to spread and expand. All the facilities to be found at Bath and Cheltenham began to appear in the new seaside towns.

The early seaside resorts were refined and expensive, but first the steamboat and then the railways began to change all that, as working class holidays became possible and workers in the rather better jobs could use Sunday to go to the sea. The day tripper arrived on the scene, much to the disgust of the wealthier visitors who moved on to other places. The rapid expansion of the seaside towns brought the inevitable rackets. It was in the mid Victorian period that the great landlady joke began, a godsend to comics everywhere, which was largely justified as conditions in boarding houses were often bad. The rapid expansion of these towns also brought sanitation problems, with raw sewage spewing into the sea. The more refined resorts fought back against the tripper; Bournemouth banned Sunday trains and Sunday steamer trips, and Bridlington put restrictions on street musicians and band concerts on Sundays, even considering closing public houses on Sunday. The early resorts had been refined but lively, but now they divided into two types—brash and vulgar but lively, and refined but dreary—a label many resorts later found it difficult to lose. The heyday of the seaside resort was in the years leading up to the First World War. The horror that was to begin on that Bank Holiday Monday in 1914 marked the end of an era.

After the war the seaside resort revived but by then the old boarding house set pattern of meals at regular times, with holiday activities in between, gave way to a more restless approach. The car and motor coaches enabled people to travel more widely. A rash of bungalow growth spread for many miles along once unspoiled coast, while miles of the River Thames were faced by cheap shacks. Farming was in a bad way and farmers were happy to sell off poor quality land for development and to go in for catering for holiday makers. The Thirties saw the rise of the holiday camp in which accommodation, catering, swimming pools, entertainment and sports facilities were in one establishment, usually at an all-in price. These were usually away from the old resorts and in competition with them. It was fashionable to sneer at holiday campers, as it had been to sneer at day trippers before them and is with the package tourists of today. The inter-war years slump were the time of expansion of the cheap recreations of hiking, cycling and camping; the Youth Hostel Association came into being as a result.

Since the last war the holiday trade—or tourism to give it its modern title—has become international. Greater planning powers, as well as public pressure, has prevented a further spread of cheap development and has cleared away a lot of it, but in its place has come the caravan sites which, although they can be ugly, arc generally better sited and better controlled. The holiday trade has grown out of all recognition of its origins. Longer holidays and the five-day week have enabled many more people to travel. Every town has its Tourist Information Office providing books, guides, maps, calendars and souvenirs. The recession has affected the trade but tourism today is not just big business: in line with the development of capitalism it is a major industry.
Les Dale

Prejudices (1984)

Book Review from the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Thatcher Government by Peter Riddell (Oxford, 1983)

This book, an examination of the first Thatcher administration, discusses the nature, aspirations, performance and prospects of “Thatcherism". Riddell is partially sympathetic to the administration and claims that many of the decisions made on economic and industrial matters were inescapable. The Conservative government’s aim has been to change the direction of economic policy by shifting the frontiers between the public and the private sectors. It has also attempted to restore “law and order" and assert British capitalists' interests in the world, to a large extent continuing the programme begun under the Labour governments of Wilson and Callaghan. The question that Riddell raises is whether "the (probably necessary) shake-up of British industry could have been achieved with less suffering, perhaps through a modification of the basic strategy" (p.4).

Riddell sees Thatcher not purely as a defender of free enterprise or monetarism but as a moral crusader, the voice of the provincial and suburban "middle class", concerned with personal responsibility, the family and national pride. This means that there has been no radical change in the British economy and society, for Thatcher is firmly committed to capitalism, the profit motive and private enterprise. Riddell sees her approach as "a combination of provocative rhetoric and cautious practice" (p.29). She has been committed to an increase in expenditure on defence and law and order at the expense of industry and employment budgets and housing subsidies. Riddell is particularly sympathetic to the Thatcher administration's attack on trade unions. He panders to popular prejudice, claiming that the government came to power in response to a "collapse of authority" (p.38). by which he means the failure of government to keep the unions in check.

Margaret Thatcher has surrounded herself with supporters because she "likes to have her own prejudices reinforced" (p.55) but her approach is not novel in that "if there has been a Thatcher experiment, it was launched by Denis Healey” (p.59). Her major success is seen as the reduction of “inflation", but that has occurred alongside a massive increase in unemployment. According to Riddell:
with all the necessary qualifications, economists have estimated that between two-fifths and a half of the rise in unemployment can broadly be attributed to Government policy (p.91).
The steep rise in unemployment partly explains the lack of initiative taken by the unions, whose so-called realism in industrial relations is largely a response to the economic recession. This has been exacerbated by the Thatcher government and has led to much resignation and apathy among trade union members.

The continued talks about an overall reduction in public expenditure have been frustrated by the recession. Yet there have been attacks on housing, education and social security and Riddell argues that the NHS will be threatened next. The poorest members of the community have suffered most but the working class as a whole has been frustrated by the problems promoted as the greatest ills affecting society. The need to control trade unions or reduce the size of state run monopolies is not the issue, for this is to argue simply for a change in the organisation of capitalism. The belief that an efficiently run capitalism will be of real benefit to the working class is an illusion but one that Riddell accepts. He talks of the dangers arising out of the power exerted by the public sector unions and is also unhappy about the monopolies of the public utilities, although he feels that denationalisation should not include social security, health and education.

Riddell accepts the strictures imposed by capitalism and is not unwilling to put forward his own prejudices about the nature of contemporary society. He embraces the notion of an increased need for law and order when he argues that "a renewed drive against crime and increased expenditure on the police were necessary in 1979” (p.204). He supports immigration control when he argues that:
a redefinition of British citizenship was probably necessary in view of the changed position of the UK in relation to its previous colonies and the Commonwealth (p.203)
and he waves the flag at jingoism when he says
there is no dispute that the retaking of the Falkland Islands by the British forces was an outstanding achievement . . .  determination paid off, thanks to the single-mindedness of Mrs Thatcher (pp.218-9).
This book may be an accurate description of Britain during the period of the first Thatcher administration but it is weak in analysis. Riddell is correct when he argues that the real losers have been the trade unions and the least well-off. There has been the destruction of large parts of the manufacturing process and a reduction in the level of public services. He is also correct in arguing that the interests of the working class would not have been met by the Labour Party and that in many respects the Conservatives have continued a trend begun under Labour administrations. It would be a fallacy to pinpoint Margaret Thatcher as the cause of Britain’s woes. Thatcher may have been more ruthless in attacking the working class by insisting on the primary importance of profit, but that is the nature of the present system of society. It is equally true to say that had the working class been offered various crumbs of reforms their position would not have been radically altered. Riddell claims to provide an analysis of Thatcherism but what he really shows is the failure of yet another attempt to fool the working class into the misguided notion that capitalism can be controlled.
Philip Bentley