Thursday, April 21, 2016

Commerce and Cancer (1986)

Book Review from the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cancer in Britain: the politics of prevention. Lesley Doyal (Editor). Pluto Press. £5.95.

This book is a sequel to Epstein's influential The Politics of Cancer and examines the dangers to health of carcinogens in industry, food additives, tobacco, environmental pollution, drugs such as female sex hormones and oral and injectable contraceptives in Britain.

Cancer is regarded by the authors as a preventable disease and they are critical of the curative emphasis that dominates most research, pointing out that the rates of cure for most major cancers have improved only slightly in the last 30 years. There are marked differences in the cancer rates of urban and rural areas, with very high rates of lung and stomach cancer in the industrialised inner-city areas — a pattern previously observed in the United States. The major cancers are common among semi-skilled and unskilled workers, particularly men, probably reflecting in part their greater exposure to occupational carcinogens.

The authors explain that there are two distinct approaches to cancer causation — the "establishment" approach which argues that occupational cancers cause less than 5 per cent of all cancers and resists attempts at regulation of industry, claiming that people's "life-styles" are responsible; and the "radical" approach which argues that 20-40 per cent of cancers are work-related and aims at better health and safety measures at work.

A comprehensive account is provided of the dangers of working with carcinogens; how industry resists attempts to make working conditions safer and how comparatively few people are able to obtain compensation once they have developed cancer through their work. The difficulty of regulating industry is increased by the manufacturers' secrecy, although as ASTMS have pointed out:
The chemical companies have no secrets from one another: each can analyse the product of its rivals within hours in an analytical laboratory. The real object of "commercial secrecy" is to keep information out of the hands of the unions, (page 38)
The pursuit of profit, not lack of knowledge, lies behind the failure to make the working environment safer. There are, for example, about 2.000 asbestos-induced deaths each year and although a Home Office report pointed out the dangers as long ago as 1906, regulations to control the levels of asbestos dust were not introduced until 1932.

The most flagrant examples of commercial interests influencing the regulation of dangerous substances can be seen in the case of the pesticides aldrin and dieldrin, which are banned in the United States but used and manufactured exclusively in Britain, and chlordane and heptachlor which are restricted in Britain but made and used in the United States. The failure of successive governments to regulate the tobacco industry and prevent the 50,000 deaths a year caused, at least in part, by smoking is influenced by the £4,000 million received every year from tobacco tax. The book points out that “. . . the financially precarious newspaper industry earns more than £30 million each year from advertising, a fact reflected in the consistent refusal of newspapers to criticise the industry or to support campaigns for stricter regulation" (page 81).

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the use of carcinogens has been in the treatment of pregnant women with diethylstilboestrol, mainly in the 1950s. The drug actually increased miscarriages and baby deaths instead of preventing them, caused abnormalities in the offspring and an increase in the incidence of breast cancer.

In a chapter devoted to fighting the causes of cancer it is stated that "The problem is inherent in the nature and priorities of a society in which the profit motive is predominant" (page 147). Reformist measures such as campaigning for a Freedom of Information Act and more public participation in decisions are advocated and are doomed to failure under capitalism because of their effects on profitability. Socialism is not mentioned.

Nevertheless, despite its faults, this book is well researched, well referenced and provides a lot of useful information about how one-fifth of us will die prematurely to provide profits for capitalism.
Carl Pinel

Letter: BBC bias (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

The recent questioning of the myth of BBC editorial independence must be a very touchy issue in Broadcasting House. I doubt if Richard Cooper's letter to them concerning possible TV censorship (Letters, November Socialist Standard), will evoke other than evasive platitudes in reply. But even these would be an advance on their card replying to my letter, sent from India to the Listener, copied to World Service, and telling me that they had no space to print my "interesting letter". This letter had pointed out that references by their correspondent Mark Tully, to the government of the state of Kerala, India, where I was then living, as marxist. were contradictions in terms and that his persistent references to the government of state capitalist Russia as "the Soviets" were similarly historically inaccurate and misleading.

The reputation for objectivity held by the BBC abroad rests largely on the assumption that its news reportage is unsullied by bias, personal or official. Having worked in the UK for the BBC and abroad with other broadcasting organisations, I have concluded that unless one is closely familiar with the subject, personally biased news reporting usually goes undetected. Even when exposed, the wholly unwarranted reputation persists. There is, of course, no reason to suppose that BBC and other media employees should be any less biased than the rest of the working class in matters of sex, politics and race.

The fact is that BBC bias exists on many levels. Apart from personal partiality, the perpetuation of popular myth can be seen in the reporting of the role of black workers in inner city rioting. I first heard of the 1981 riots in St. Pauls. Bristol from the World Service news. This referred to groups of youths "some of whom were black ' Factually correct of course, but quite irrelevant the area in any case has a significant black population and their absence, not their presence, would have been exceptional. It would have been equally correct, but just as pointless, had the reference to colour emphasised "some of whom were white". But the stereotypical, riot-prone black loomed larger in the minds of the newsroom editors and the damage was done. Just as it was when the black worker whose traffic offence is alleged to have sparked off the Handsworth riots, was invited to make abject apology on TV for the rioting immediately after the revelation that two Indians had been burned to death. Although two white workers were subsequently charged with their murder, the blacks were already guilty by association. The colour of those involved was. of course, quite immaterial.

These examples of the perpetuation of historical and racial mythology may not appear strictly as bias, but they do reflect the underlying distortions that, through repetition in the "respectable" media, have become common in support of status quo ideology.

The reinforcing of popular prejudice by the broadcasters' subjective, often unconscious, assumptions is probably the most dangerous power of the media, for it is largely hidden. Blatant and open propaganda is usually easier to counter. To charges of bias, such as those regularly made on ITV's Right to Reply, the producers will answer that an in-depth programme on a contentious issue requires some favouritism and discrimination in order to express its viewpoint. It cannot allow an impartiality which, within programme-time limitations, would reduce its analytical perspective. Balance is to be achieved, they maintain, not within any one such programme, but over a substantial period during which allocation of facilities is made without bias.

This seems fair enough. But does broadcasting policy permit of such balancing of opposing viewpoints? The three main reports on broadcasting since the war are all specific on this. Beveridge's 1949 Report of the Broadcasting Committee states in Chapter 10:
It is essential that the broadcasting authority, in allotting opportunities for ventilation of controversial views, should not be guided either by simple calculation of the numbers who already hold such views, or by fear of giving offence to particular groups of listeners. Minorities must have the chance by persuasion, of turning themselves into majorities.
Even more explicit is Pilkington's 1960 Report of the Committee on Broadcasting:
Both the BBC and ITA must see to it that minor parties are given a fair opportunity to take part: it is part of their responsibility to see that dissent in party political, as in other forms of public discussion, can have a hearing. The difficulty of ensuring impartiality and balance should never be allowed to serve as an excuse for excluding controversy and dissent from public discussion (page 94)
So why is it that the case for socialism is distorted and rarely heard? After mentioning the restrictions due to the compromising dependence of journalists on their information source such as politicians.,Lord Annan's Report of 1974 provides the answer. Under a heading "External Pressures" on page 24. it states
. . the constitutional authority of radio and television to function at all stems from an organ that the political parties control.
So despite fears the BBC may feel for its alleged independence, it doesn't really matter if the Peacock Committee recommends replacing existing funding — through licence fees and government grant with private sponsorship and advertising The state remains the final arbiter and authority on its broadcasting function. Its Board of Management will still have to be polite to the Board of Governors and through them to the Home Secretary.

In any case, the BBC has never been independent of government pressure on its programme content Its 1927 Charter makes clear that "Government has the last word. It confers on the Government a formally absolute power of veto over BBC programmes", and the Secretary of State . . . may from time to time by notice in writing require the Corporation to refrain at any specified time or at all times, from sending any matter or matters of any class specified in such notice". (Clause 13(4) of the Licence.)

It has also been clear since 1927 what the BBC means by "impartiality" The Charter goes on:
Impartiality is not absolute neutrality, or detachment from those basic moral and constitutional beliefs on which the nation's life rests. The BBC does not feel obliged to be neutral as between truth and untruth, justice and injustice, freedom and slavery . . .
And if we ask whose truth, whose justice, whose freedom the BBC is partial to, we need look no further for the source of its bias.

This may throw some light on the continuing difficulty the Socialist Party experiences in trying to obtain access to broadcasting facilities.
W. Robertson 

Letter to the Editors (1985)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

5th August 1985

BBC Television 
Broadcasting House 
London W1A 1AA

Dear Sirs

I watched your programme, Choices, An Embarrassment of Riches on Sunday last. 4th August. and found myself once again experiencing a BBC "discussion" in which only half the argument is debated. (If ever a programme cried out for some expression of the idea of common ownership of the means of living in a propertyless world of production to satisfy human need, this one did.)

Can you please explain, therefore, why it is that, despite the existence of so powerful a philosophy (socialism) which grew out of the intellects of such giants as Plato, John Ball, Gerrard Winstanley, William Morris, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Friedrich Engels (to name but a few), your programmes should be so emasculated in this respect? After all, our masters haven't censored you in this area yet, have they? - Or have they?

Richard Cooper 
Skipton, North Yorkshire

(The BBC's reply - a printed postcard saying "Thank you for your recent letter which is being brought to the notice of the producer concerned". EDITORS)

What is socialism? (1985)

From the December 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism, as envisaged by the World Socialist Movement, will be a global society without governments, states, money or wages. All human beings will own in common, and democratically control, all the means for producing and distributing wealth. As goods and services will be produced solely for use, money will be non-existent. As we will all be the common owners of the means of production and distribution we will all automatically have the social right of free access to satisfy our needs without the restriction of a wages system or vouchers of any kind.

Marx's reference to labour vouchers in the Critique of the Gotha Programme is completely irrelevant when we consider the potential for producing and distributing wealth that exists today. His approach might possibly have had some justification in the nineteenth century — it has none now. In socialism each of us will work to the best of our ability and satisfy our needs as they arise. The ability to produce the quantities of wealth to satisfy the reasonable demands of the world's population has already been developed by capitalism.

This does not mean that the productive capacity of the world is unlimited. One can assume, however, that a world population endowed with sufficient social consciousness to have established socialism, equipped with the productive know-how previously acquired under capitalism, will generate practical demands which can be satisfied with comparative ease. This obviously can only be achieved when the world is operated as a single unit — the establishment of socialism in one country, or even a group of countries, is both inconceivable and impractical.

In socialism, government will be non-existent. You cannot have governments without the "governors" and the "governed" and this automatically entails the paraphernalia of the state machine in one form or another. We draw a clear distinction between the democratic administrative structures of socialism and capitalist government.

When socialism is introduced the workers of the world will not have forgotten overnight the ability to produce cars, houses, food, clothing, and so on. We should therefore logically assume that socialist men and women will also have the capability of establishing and organising their own socialist administrative structures. The "administration of things" would be a social organisation quite distinct from "government”, which must of necessity coerce people in a class society. The democratic structures of socialism will reflect the relationships of the new society of common ownership, production for use, and free access
Samuel Leight
(World Socialist Party of the United States)

Violence on the streets (1985)

From the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one way I am not sorry they set fire to Lozells on 9 September. It always reeked of poverty. When I lived in Handsworth as a kid in the thirties, Saturday morning film shows were only 2d at Lozells Picture House when they were 6d at the Odeon in Perry Barr. But in spite of that we didn't often go in the Lozells direction. We were afraid. Lozells Road formed a boundary to Handsworth. Beyond it into the centre of Birmingham were the really destitute slums of New Town and Hockley, where the houses in their thousands were small, black and insanitary, and violence was common among children just as it was among their parents.

Almost all those slums have gone now, partially cleared by a deliberate council programme just before the war; then by German bombs and land mines; and finally by urban planners with their traffic expressways and high rise flats. But Lozells and Villa Cross were left largely untouched, the frayed edge of Handsworth, getting more tattered every year.

As the fabric of Handsworth deteriorated those of us who could afford to move out did so. Those who could afford nothing else moved in to live in our cast-offs, and they have mainly been Asian and West Indian immigrants.

When we moved to Handsworth fifty years ago I was seven, and I can still remember the dismay I felt when I first saw it. Even then it was old and grimy and gloomy. Now I live three miles away, and when I drive through it about once a week it is obviously a ghetto. They say that £20 million has been spent on it. Thousands of patched and leaking roofs have been renewed. The privet hedges have been pulled out of thousands of dank little front gardens and replaced by low brick walls. And concrete tubs of dead plants are dotted along the pavements of Soho Road.

Patching the worn-out fabric of Handsworth like this emphasises the official view that it is considered basically adequate for those who live there. For black teenagers it confirms the fact that there is no escape. There is no need for walls around the ghetto. Without enough money to go and live somewhere else without working — without the need to beg for a job — they must stay there, without work and without hope. In this type of mathematics poverty equals frustration.

Most of the journalists and politicians expressed pained surprise that the orgy of violence and looting came almost immediately after all the noise and fun of the annual carnival. Surely, they implied, a few hours of music and colourful clothing in the streets ought to keep them quiet for a few months. It is a very insulting attitude — partly racist of course: but it is also typical of the capitalist class attitude towards unemployed and low-paid sections of the working class in general. And journalists and politicians — as befits their professions — try hard to talk in the accents of their masters. Of course. I don't know what individuals in Handsworth felt about the carnival, but it doesn't seem strange to me that Sunday's "innocent" fun, organised by the "community leaders", should turn into Monday's much uglier and more bitter fun, as the harsh realities of the week reasserted themselves.

The same sort of insulting attitude lies behind all the efforts to explain why the riot happened at this particular time. There is probably some truth in all of them: weeks of TV newsreels of South African riots; drug trafficking and police attempts to curb it; the police handling of a particular parking offence by a Rastafarian; the long history of antipathy between West Indians and Asians. The trouble is that they all assume that any amount of deprivation, frustration, despair can be kept under control by "softly-softly policing" and gestures of community relations.

Speaking with quite a different attitude, television producers show that violence produces results. Industrialists, financiers and even governments have shown themselves prepared to reward it if it is sufficiently powerful. Toxteth, Brixton and Handsworth itself have all received money from central government because they had riots. And the riots in South Africa have evoked trading and financial sanctions from the major western governments because the Botha government is seen as too cautious and niggardly with its reforms. All of this has been shown on television. So has the heavily armed and organised violence of the South African police, so that television has actually been accused of causing the riots in Britain.

The best commentary I have seen on that point of view was made, completely without words, by a television cameraman at the scene in Lozells on the following morning. His zoom lens pulled back to take in the scene of smoking devastation from a dose-up of an advertisement hoarding which carried a huge picture of Sylvester Stallone as Rambo — brown skin, rippling muscles, long tangled black hair, stem fatalistic face — cradling his heavy automatic rifle with his finger poised on the trigger. Rambo First Blood II is one of many films that turn violence into entertainment, a kind of romance, and make a great deal of money from it. Most black youngsters must be able to identify themselves with mistreated. misunderstood John Rambo and the trail of death and destruction he leaves behind him. A large proportion of western society must find the character and the subject sympathetic, judging by the huge box office success this film has been in America. It is a film that has won the approval of that old second-rate movie cowboy. Ronald Reagan, and it shows just how much this society has changed since I used to watch Tom Mix and Flash Gordon on Saturday mornings. Its heroes and its philosophy of life are now unable to escape the obvious fact that capitalism, eastern or western variety, is founded upon violence and is maintained by violence or the threat of it all the time. In every nation the ruling capitalist class has risen to power and wealth by violence. And they defend their hold on society's means of living, against other nations and against their own working class, with military forces and police forces — the professionals in violence.

Working class violence, in contrast, has no objective and no organisation. It is simply a reaction to living in a society of violence. The vicious behaviour of football supporters at Birmingham City or Brussels is not a ghastly exception. It is part of the social pattern which includes Beirut, Nicaragua, Soweto, Uganda and many others. It is part of the same society as the miners' strike and the nuclear arms race. And it mainly hurts other workers.

The war let me escape from Handsworth, first as a child evacuee at the beginning and then as a conscript into the navy at the end. It totally altered my view of things, and I wondered recently what my life and my views would have been like if I had been forced to stay in Handsworth. If I had grown up there in the eighties instead of the forties, during a slump instead of a war. with my horizon limited to the Lozells Road, having to spend every day with nothing to do, knowing that I was surplus to society's requirements, more of an embarrassment than anything else. I imagine that at times I might have felt like looting a few shops or setting fire to a few cars. But the war was six years of the bloodiest violence and destruction the world had ever seen. It was capitalism really excelling all its previous efforts. And it convinced me that I wanted to live in a society without violence. I wanted to live in a world without poverty and shabbiness and despair. I also wanted some of the far better living conditions that I had seen away from Handsworth.

That was when I found socialists to talk to and began to understand the real reason for slums and unemployment and crime and war, instead of believing the bullshit of politicians and priests and community leaders. That was when I also realised that, when it comes to violence, the capitalist state can win against workers every time. That is its job. It may simply smash them or sometimes it may grant hand-outs of money and show willing to talk, but only save more money and to stay firmly in control, like the Polish government did with Solidarity.

Socialists are angry about the sorts of lives we are forced to lead, about bad housing. unemployment, old people dying of cold in winter, and all the other drab, depressing features of poverty — but we don't pick on other workers — Pakistanis or Italian football supporters, or whites, or blacks, because that only hurts ourselves. It suits the capitalist class very nicely as long as the anger is directed away from them, and away from the real cause of the problems. What really worries them is when members of the working class get together, when they organise an efficient democratic political movement with the single aim of throwing them out, and when that movement starts to gain mass support.

Socialists call on all men and women of the working class, whether they are black, white, brown or yellow, whether they are employed or unemployed, old or young, to join us in a growing political movement to end this violent, poverty-stricken way of organising society. It is ours for the taking as soon as we make up our minds to act all together.
Ron Cook

Branded (2003)

Book Review from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. By Alissa Quart. Arrow.

“Catch them young” has always been the slogan of those peddling religious ideas, but it has now been taken on board by people in charge of marketing in capitalist corporations. As Alissa Quart shows in this interesting if sometimes superficial book, clothing and cosmetics companies in particular are increasingly targeting teenagers and 'tweens' (nine-to-thirteen year-olds).

The idea is that youngsters who develop an attachment for a particular brand (Gap, for instance) will continue to buy it as they get older. Thus money spent on advertising to kids will pay big dividends over the years ahead. Brands and logos become crucial in adolescent peer groups: if you don't have the right bag or shoes, then you may have trouble being accepted by your would-be friends.

But how to advertise? Teenagers spend less time watching TV these days than a few years ago, preferring to surf the web or play video games. So, while TV advertising remains important, it is being rivalled by sneakier ideas such as product placement in films. In Legally Blonde, for instance, it is clear which make of nail polish and shampoo the main character uses. Another avenue for publicity involves planting logos in video games: a skateboarding game may contain logos for a company that makes boards and clothing, or the 'characters' in the game may skate past one of the company's shops.

Teen peer-to-peer marketing is another ploy, with teenagers being 'employed' as unpaid salespeople, to spread the idea of a particular brand to their friends and provide feedback on proposed new lines. At the same time, parents work longer hours and so have less time with their children, who they may buy off by spending more money on them. As a result, the brand has become a kind of surrogate parent:
“Teenagers have come to feel that consumer goods are their friends – and that the companies selling products to them are trusted allies. After all, they inquire after the kids' opinions with all the solicitude of an ideal parent. Tell us how best to sell you our products, they ask. If you do, we will always love you.”
There may be a bit of exaggeration here, but it remains a pretty dreadful condemnation of the pressures that commodity-based society places on workers as both producers and consumers.

I must confess that I found parts of the book barely comprehensible – I'd like to think that this is due to its American emphasis rather than my being an old fogey. Quart supplies a preface for this edition, where she discusses the extent to which US-derived marketing ideas have spread to Britain. Schools, for instance, often house subsidised vending machines from Coke and so on, while the Walkers' Crisps campaign involving “free” textbooks has boosted their brand rating. On the whole, though, things are not quite as commercialised here – not yet, anyway, but there is little doubt about the way that capitalism is going and about how it is driven by marketing considerations rather than any satisfying of human needs.
Paul Bennett

Thomas Henry Huxley (1923)

Quotation from the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
 “Who shall number the patient and earnest seekers after truth, from the days of Galileo until now, whose lives have been embittered and their good name blasted by the mistaken zeal of Bibliolaters
  Who shall count the host of weaker men whose sense of truth has been destroyed in the effort to harmonise impossibilities— whose life has been wasted in the attempt to force the generous new wine of science into the old bottles of Judaism, compelled by the outcry of the same strong party.” 
(Darwiniana, Page 52).

Between the Lines: Miner distortions (1985)

The Between the Lines column from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Miner distortions

Most people these days find out what is happening by watching the news on television. As is usually the case when there is a conflict between wage labour and capital, the TV news about the miners' strike has struck a fair balance between lies and omission. Recently the letters column of the Guardian contained several letters from outraged media-watchers who are appalled by the way in which facts were distorted and events presented in a one-sided manner. What do such people expect from TV news? Can you imagine a newscaster coming on the screen and announcing that a strike has occurred because the employers broke a written agreement with a trade union? Is it likely that TV news editors are going to go out of their way to ensure that the propaganda of the bosses is not swallowed by the gullible public? The fact is that the function of the so-called news is to inform workers in accordance with the general requirements of the system.

For readers wanting an example of the fairness of the TV news in relation to the miners' strike, here is one to be getting along with: In November of last year a certain strike-breaker (sorry, rebel) by the name of Barry Newton became famous in the North East because he was trying to lead a back-to-work campaign in the Durham area. Newton alleged that he was attacked by three men in balaclavas who threw ammonia in his face. A disgusting and unjustifiable crime, without doubt. The TV news programme in the region lost no time in showing the alleged tactics being used by supporters of the strike and exhibiting Newton as a hero. In February this year Newton was taken to court for wasting police time. It turns out that police investigations showed that the allegations were without foundation. But did the TV news presenters and the journalists on the regional newspapers carry equally big stories in February as they had run in November? Of course not; and. needless to say. the news editors who have deceived people by omission, will not be charged with wasting workers' time. How many striking miners will learn as a result of seeing television's distortions of their strike that you can never trust what the bosses' media tells you?

Who invented JR?

What exactly are the characters in Dallas up to? I mean, what are they actually doing in life? Every week millions of us stare at the images of J. R. Ewing and his self-righteous brother. Bobby, swivelling on their big leather chairs on the top floor of the office block which they own — but what do they go into the office to do? Whenever we see them they are engaging in Big Deals with gullible Texan oil magnates or else tricking their best friends into bankruptcy, bed or both. But what is the function of the Ewings?

Now, we all know that Betty Turpin in Coronation Street is there to sell beer and that Benny Hawkins in Crossroads is employed to mow Mr Hunter s lawn. The Ewings of Dallas seem never to do anything of the slightest social use. There is a reason for this. The characters being portrayed are businessmen: in fact, the Ewings are into Big Business. And being a family of capitalist millionaires (the brothers inherited the oil company when Jock Ewing's contract ran out and he was killed in a mysterious plane crash), the function of the Ewings is not to make anything or care for anyone or organise anything — they just sit there in a perpetual state of parasitical idleness, tricking and gossiping and screwing. And we, the workers who don't swivel about on leather chairs all day nor have Mexican waiters running in with classy cocktails every time we fancy a drink, are expected to admire the Ewings, to identify with them and even to feel sorry for them when business is not going too well

In the first programme of the interesting ITV series Television we saw a group of South American peasants huddled around a television set (the only luxury in their slum home) and getting excited about the privileged happenings in Dallas. Such entertainment is a powerful opium offered by our bosses to keep the minds of the workers away from the reality of our own social problems. What they are saying to us through offerings like Dallas is "If you want luxury you can't have it, because it's only obtainable for the few. but as a compensation prize we'll show you snippets of other people living in affluence and you can switch into such a fantasy for an hour every week".

Some time ago somebody attempted to shoot and kill J. R. Needless to say, the boring old millionaire lived to sign a new contract and make a new series and so we are still receiving our weekly ration of boring tales of the Texan scroungers. They are not the only capitalists put on show for us to watch: on another night of the week we can try to identify with the bores of Dynasty and a few years ago, for those who like to be the passive observers of home-grown parasites, there was Brideshead Revisited. Instead of escaping into the fantasy worlds of other people's luxury the millions of workers who regularly switch on to such programmes would do better to consider the possibility of a society in which we can all live life to the full.

Socialist comment

On 4 February Brian Montague, a member of the Belfast branch of the World Socialist Party (Ireland) appeared on the Channel Four Comment programme and stated as cogent a case for socialism as could be fitted in to the few minutes available. Which goes to prove that British television is balanced and democratic: after all. what more can we ask for than four minutes to put the argument for socialism against the countless hours each week devoted to putting the daft political, religious and cultural ideas and values of world capitalism?
Steve Coleman

Tony Blair – Big Business, Big Dictators, Big Money (2016)

From the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Blair’s successful career of getting people to vote for him and make him Prime Minister, 1997-2007, meant he was able after leaving 10 Downing St to move into the very remunerative world of advising wealthy companies and foreign governments.  
He made a good start. J. P. Morgan, the American investment bank, hired him to advise them for a fee of about £2.5 million a year.  He got other deals from Zurich Insurance, Bernard Arnault (part of a luxury goods conglomerate), and the International Sanitary Supply Association (Times, 2 March). His main firm, Tony Blair Associates, has been doing very well ever since.  Not only rich businessmen, but autocratic rulers round the world, can count on Blair’s support, at a price.  
In 2013 Egypt’s first ever elected government (like every other government round the world, it was disreputable and unscrupulous – but it was elected) and its President Mohamed Morsi were overthrown by an army coup, a thousand ‘dissidents’ being killed, and thousands more arrested. Blair hurried over to Cairo to see the new army leader, Abdel al-Sisi, and went on Egyptian television to give his support.  ‘We can debate the past and it’s probably not very fruitful to do so, but right now I think it’s important the international community gets behind the leadership here.’  Previously Blair had given his backing to an earlier Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and to the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi (Guardian, 30 January 2014).
Blair keeps up a high moral tone.  In 2007 he went to China (in a private jet, naturally) and told a meeting of philanthropists (who paid £1500 a head – more than a Chinese production worker then got in a year) that you should be judged not on what you do for yourself but on what you do for others.  He made $500,000 for that speech.
One of his main clients is Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, who pays Blair at least $13 million a year (some say twice as much as that).  In the days when the country was part of the Soviet Union, Nazarbayev rose to become First Secretary of the local state-capitalist party (for propaganda purposes it was deceitfully called the ‘Communist’ Party); that is, he was the local ruler.  Then when the Soviet Union broke up, Nazarbayev held an election for a new President, and (believe it or not) easily won with 91.5 percent of the vote.  Unlike rulers in countries with a bit more free speech, he gets more popular the longer he rules.  He’s been re-elected several times, and was able to announce that he had won the 2015 contest with 98 percent of the vote. The Human Rights Watch perhaps helped to explain this, when it pointed out that ‘Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion . . .  Torture remains common in places of detention.’  Nazarbayev was anti-religious in the Soviet days when that was the party line, but since then has become an enthusiast for Islam (most Kazakhs are Muslims), and has done the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.  There was an awkward business in 2011 when government forces killed fourteen unarmed protestors at a demonstration. Blair was able to advise Nazarbayev how to deal with the public relations angle, and sent him 500 words for his next speech to explain it all away.  All this goes down very well with other governments: Russia has given Nazarbayev six medals, and other countries have handed over another twenty-seven – including the dear old United Kingdom, which made him an ‘Honourable Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George’.  So no one could object to Blair’s giving (or rather selling) a helping hand to a knight backed by a couple of saints.  (What saints George and Mick really think of Nazarbayev hasn’t yet been disclosed.)
Another of Blair’s clients is Azerbaijan.  Heydar Aliyev was the KGB chief when Azerbaijan was in the old Stalinist Russian empire, and soon after independence he became president, until he died in 2003.  They know how to handle these matters in dictatorships, and (as with Assad in Syria) Heydar’s son – Ilham Aliyev – was immediately installed as ruler.  Ilham has a nice little family, two daughters and a son, and they all soon found themselves owning large Azerbaijani companies, not to mention valuable real property.  Ilham’s son, another Heydar, actually bought some luxury mansions in a Dubai development when he was only eleven years old.  Clearly a promising lad.  No prizes for guessing who will be groomed to succeed his father in due course as Azerbaijan’s freely-elected leader.  (In fact the family spent $44 million altogether on Dubai mansions, despite the fact that Ilham’s official salary is only $228,000; they must have been saving their pennies.)  Blair went to Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital) in 2009 and made a speech boosting the regime, in return for a fee of nearly $150,000.  ‘Journalists and human rights activists have been intensely harassed and savagely beaten’ (Guardian 6 January 2015), and opponents find themselves in jail; the security forces have arrested demonstrators ‘in order to protect citizens’ constitutional rights’ (which is one way of putting it).
Among numerous other clients is the ruler of Rwanda.  Blair is ‘an uncritical friend and well-paid adviser to the likes of Paul Kagama of Rwanda, a violent authoritarian’ (Economist, 5 March).  In that auspicious country, those who speak against the leader would do well to make their wills.  A number of politicians who opposed Kagama have come to a sticky end, while more than one who hoped to baffle Kagama’s strong-arm boys by fleeing abroad has met with a violent and unexplained demise even in a ‘safe haven’.
Blair’s wife Cherie is in on the act.  She has founded a firm to provide ‘strategic counsel to governments, corporates and private clients’.  One of her customers is the president of the Maldives, Abdulla Yazmeen, who has put the leaders of three opposition parties in jail, along with another 1700 opponents.
Providing help to despotic potentates round the world certainly pays off.  Blair’s personal fortune is now estimated at £70 million.  Windrush Ventures (which advises foreign governments; Firebush Ventures looks after affluent companies and sovereign wealth funds) –has just trebled its annual profits to £2.6 million, and the average pay of its forty-eight staff is now over £100,000 (Daily Telegraph, 6 March).  A tax specialist professor at City University said Blair when prime minister used to favour ‘accountability and transparency’; now he is ‘embarrassingly silent about his sources of income’.  Blair’s London home is a capacious house in Connaught Square (once owned by John Adams, later the American President), near Hyde Park, along with a substantial mews house behind, both guarded round the clock by armed policemen.  His country residence, which he bought in 2008, is a Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire, complete with tennis court and swimming pool.  In fact Blair is now believed to own thirty-six properties.
Blair is keen to keep on good terms with the other world, and has founded ‘Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation’ to support all the major religions (with its main office in Grosvenor Square, just across from the US embassy); so perhaps he feels that in return the various supernatural rulers of the universe are supporting him, however dubious his activities.  Blair’s excuse for joining in the invasion of Iraq (which kickstarted the total chaos across the Middle East today – Syria has 250,000 dead, and half the population are ‘displaced’, i.e. refugees) – his excuse was that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator (as indeed he was).  He keeps saying he will defend the assault on Iraq ‘till my dying day’.  How ironic it is that Blair is now making his fortune by supporting other equally brutal dictators.
Socialists have always pointed out that Labour governments, and Labour Prime Ministers, can do no more than attempt to run capitalism more efficiently, and pretend to make people better off.  Tony Blair is now apparently engaged in an earnest effort to prove socialists right – at least he’s doing his best to make at least one ex-Prime Minister better off.
Alwyn Edgar