Saturday, July 2, 2016

Atheism, Religion and Socialism (1932)

From the February 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Chapman Cohen, the Editor of the Freethinker, is an "advanced” thinker who described Communism as the religion of Russia. He builds up his argument on the insistence on certain kinds of teaching in Russia, to the exclusion of any other ideas whatever.

Mr. Chapman Cohen, however, has no ground for calling this Communism, and uses this term as loosely as any Christian could do.

The limited point of view of Freethought was indicated by him in the Freethinker (November 1st, 1931).

He says that Conservatism, Liberalism, and Capitalism are equally atheistic with Socialism.

Atheism, or Freethought, then, is limited to. the opposition to religion. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression, however, cover a wider field than a negation of religion. Any Freethinker who applied his free thinking to social life would find that the basis of freedom is economic. Those who control our livelihood are in a position to repress our activities and to compel us either to keep quiet or lose "our” jobs. This brings the Freethinker up against the question of material conditions.

At a lecture at Great Alie Street Forum, London, on December 12th, Mr. Cohen vigorously denied that the workers were struggling to-day for bread and butter. The struggle to-day, he said, was psychological. All the efforts of workers to get better things or to make their livelihood secure were not material, but a product of higher mental states. Reason, not economics, was the guide, according to the Apostle of Atheism.

The driving force of history was not material conditions, but mind. Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Scientist, and Chapman Cohen, the Freethinker, find a common ground in their ideas. In fact, all believers in religion ridicule the materialist conception of history on the same grounds as the "Freethinker"; they all say that the material conditions of wealth production and distribution are not the cause of social change. They argue that changing mental concepts are the fundamental cause of social change. In reply to questions, Mr. Cohen asserted that he was putting forward good Socialist arguments in describing all ideas as social in origin. The cause of mental changes, according to him, was to be found in social, not material, conditions.

He was faced by the argument that if the struggle for better things to-day was psychological, then we could get the things we wanted by leaving it to psychological effort.

Actually, every student of social affairs knows that the changed conditions and social freedom we want depend upon control of material things—wealth, money, food, clothing and shelter—that is, access to the means of living.

Social conditions are the cause of mental change. True. But what are social conditions? According to the Editor of the Freethinker, they are the ideas, religions, politics, institutions, newspapers, churches, property, in fact everything in society. The dominant force in social conditions among men is mind, he said. Among animals it was food, clothing and shelter. Men are different; they have got beyond the animal stage. Men are idealists; animals are not.

Typical of the superstition of the Freethinker, as such, the lecturer idolised reason, but failed to see that material conditions determine, in the long run, the things we reason about and the success or otherwise of ideals held by men. The reasoners before the French Revolution idolised liberty, freedom of contract, absence of authority, and equality. The conditions of French feudalism repressed capitalism and gave rise to these ideas. The nature of the material conditions made the victory of the Revolution limit the liberty and fraternity to the bourgeois virtues of freedom for the capitalist and repression for the worker.

Those who apply their Freethought and evolutionary ideas to social life find that the basis of all social conditions is material. The conditions of wealth production and distribution form the foundation of modern society. From this foundation the class divisions and struggles arise and develop. The class struggle is never mentioned by the Atheist, who is too busy with abstractions and abstract ideas to deal concretely with social life.

The class struggle is a product of the material conditions and becomes the greatest driving force in social evolution. Atheist or theist, rationalist or materialist —it they belong to the working class—are compelled to accept the terms of the owning class in order to live. Their daily life is limited by their economic position as a class without property, compelled to struggle for a bare “living wage.” Their ideals, their hopes and ambitions are denied expression if these conflict with the interests of the property-owning class.

Whether we like it or not, “sordid” materialists or aesthetic idealists though we may be, we are compelled to occupy our lives with the first, the essential thing in life—the securing of the wherewithal to live. That brings us up against the owning class. When we understand the struggle as well as take part in it, our object will be to get control of the material means of production. Only then will freedom of thought become a reality instead of the present sham.

The Rationalist lecturer, Mr. S. K. Ratcliffe (of the Manchester Guardian) has recently returned from Russia and lectured on a recent Sunday at Conway Hall on “The Religion of Communism.” The Monthly Record of the institute gives a summary of his lecture, from which the following is an extract:—
To consider the differences between Communism and Christianity, the Communists believe the universe to be without a God and man to be without a soul; they believe in class-hate, in the class-war, in dictatorship as a means to an end, and in the subjection of the individual. Marxism stands for a negation of the quintessence of the old religions—charity, compassion, forgiveness, the contrite spirit, the elevation of the humble and the meek. It is important to realise the width of the chasm that separates Marxism from the spirit of Buddha or of Christ. One may see this in the manner in which the Russians have set themselves to liquidate prostitution, for their object is not the redemption of the individual but the elimination of a social evil.
Mr. Ratcliffe has for many years been prominent on the lecture platform, especially in his yearly tour of American cities. The quotation given here shows that little knowledge is required to be a lecturer to Liberals and Rationalists.

He takes his Marxism from the present situation in Russia and labels the struggle there, the “Communist Religion.” Charity, forgiveness, etc., are foreign to Marxism, according to this supporter of the Great War.

Marxism is a word used to mean the teachings of Marx. Is there anything in Marx opposed to human kindness and the other elements of developed social life? On the contrary, the essential idea of Marx is to teach the workers to end this class-riven society which makes for cruelty, servility and repression. Marx taught that economic necessity demands a co-operative commonwealth. Then the social feelings would be liberated instead of being crushed in the struggle for existence.

Mr. Ratcliffe finds that under the powerful State-controlled machine of Russia the individual is subjected. He does not understand that the economic and mental development of Russia to-day does not allow Socialism to be established, apart altogether from the fact that there can be no such thing as National Socialism. The subjection in Russia under dictatorship can only be judged by an examination of the rise of Bolshevism to power and the conditions which gave it birth. If Mr. Ratcliffe knew anything about Marxism or Socialism, he would not expect Communism to rise “ in a night ” out of the nightmare that was Czarism.

He does not even realise that prostitution is an economic question. He evidently thinks that women sell themselves for money because their hearts are wicked or that they are born in sin. The Russians should “redeem the individual” women by inviting the Salvation Army or the Ethical Society to save their souls. Perhaps Mr. Ratcliife explained to Stalin how prostitution is “liquidated” in democratic Britain and America.

In a later lecture at the Conway Hall on the “Clash of Systems,” Mr. Ratcliffe criticised Russia’s lack of freedom of speech. He claimed it was inherent in Socialism. The fundamental difference between State Capitalism in Russia and Socialism as advocated by Marx is evidently quite unknown to him.
Adolph Kohn

Pathfinders: Guns, Gays and the NRA (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The appalling murder last month of around 50 people in a gay club in Orlando may have passed from the front pages, but the ramifications are likely to linger on.
In the first place there is the shooting itself. The gun lobby, in a macabre way, continues to do well out of these massacres, and gun sales always spike in the days afterwards. The gun lobby argues that a lone 'whack-job' gunman won't get far shooting at people who are themselves armed and able to shoot back. Of course this is true up to a point, but this then implies that for maximum safety everyone should be armed, even school children. It's not hard to see what's wrong with this logic. The fact that everyone around you is tooled up like an extra from The Wild Bunch is likely to make you feel less safe, not more so. Society would be drunk with anxiety and nervous tension. Massacres could be sparked by cars backfiring. Bar and football fights like the recent Marseille riot would become Tarantino bloodbaths. Divorce would be by nine millimetre. Cities would be war zones which police would patrol in tanks and helicopter gunships. Students would wear Kevlar onesies and their teachers would look like Mad Max. Americans would be climbing the barriers en-masse to get into Mexico. Even the National Rifle Association would have a hard time describing that society as desirable, progressive and free. But hey, this is capitalism, don't complain, buy shares in Smith & Wesson.
Secondly, America is close to an election. This could be the tipping point Donald Trump needs to be tipped into the White House as panicky voters decide he and not Hillary is the man most likely to stick it to the Islamicists. Socialists don't expect much from capitalist puppets of any ilk, and we know that for all their big talk they never really accomplish anything because they have to take their orders from the market. But it's never encouraging when, in times of perceived crisis, populations choose to vote for a bully or an idiot.
Then there is the homophobia. The Orlando slaughter spotlights this egregious feature of Islam which is not confined to extremists but is pretty much endemic. In the days after the shootings some Moslem gays in America did try to speak up in solidarity with the LGBT community, but their problem is that they are despised by their own religion and so are caught between a rock and a hard place, unable to speak up for either religion or gay pride.
Western liberals who draw a discreet veil over Moslem homophobia, sexism and . . . well . . . veils, really deserve to have their cowardly arses kicked. Like Jainist monks determined to cause no harm, they cause harm by proxy, refusing to take any kind of stand or defend those who need defending. At the same time, moderate Moslems need to confront their religion's endemic sexism and homophobia if they want to see any real integration in advanced capitalist societies, which is after all where the money is. Perhaps Orlando is a watershed moment, after which the fire-breathing imams will not dare to open their bilious mouths and pour further scorn on a community which now has 49 bona fide martyrs. But that's a fond hope. No such reservations bothered the 'reverend' Pastor Roger Jimenez of the Westboro Baptist Church, who complained in a sermon that the shooter hadn't killed enough of these 'pedophiles' and expressed the hope that the government would round up the rest and 'blow their brains out'. In many countries you would be arrested for saying such a thing, but apparently it's ok if you say it from a pulpit in the name of the Lord.
Gay people continue to be persecuted, beaten, raped and murdered almost routinely in many parts of the world, sometimes allegedly in order to 'cure' them. Homosexuality remains outlawed in 80 countries and is a capital crime in five of them. Even in western countries, where the gay-bashers of the 1970s have mostly died, retired or rotted away in prison, gays still have reason enough to feel insecure. The law makes 'hate speech' an offence, but it can't legislate homophobia away. Conversely, state tolerance of gays is just about the only reason anyone would want to go and live in North Korea.
Of all the absurd prejudices workers have – many of which actively prevent socialist revolution – homophobia makes possibly the least sense. Why would a heterosexual resent someone whose orientation makes them less of a direct competitive threat? Historically it makes no sense either, since homosexual behaviour has been documented throughout human history and is also known to occur among  dolphins, raccoons, lions, giraffes, cats, dogs, chimps, bison, bears, horses, elephants, marmosets, foxes, koalas… to say nothing of the many bird, fish, reptile, amphibian and insect species.
In short, rather than homosexuality being 'unnatural' as the gay-haters claim, it is homophobia which is unnatural and which needs explaining.
One can speculate how homophobia could have developed and become engrained into the moral and religious codes of many early agricultural societies (China being an interesting exception). If life in the Iron Age tended to be nasty, brutish and short, with high mortality due to warfare, disease and bad diets, there would have been an urgent need to breed new soldiers, farmers and child brides. Those displaying prime breeding attributes would gain high status while homosexual behaviour could be seen as letting the side down. Over time this view could have become encoded into religious teaching and 'sacred' texts which came to global prominence in the Middle Ages, where many people still live.
In modern times, however, we have science. What does the science say?
Nothing definitive. The best guess is that homosexuality is a by-product or side-effect of heterosexuality, caused by wandering ratios of male and female sex hormones. This would explain why many people see themselves not as either/or but somewhere on a 'gay-straight gradient'. What exactly is going on at the genetic level is hard to say, because cause and effect are almost never one-to-one but many-to-many, creating a cascade of complexities whose decipherment proceeds at a glacial pace. Moreover nobody is in much of a hurry to study homosexuality because of the political and ethical concerns, and because real diseases are more pressing.
Even if it's a side-effect, it doesn't matter much. Animals are full of bodges, accidents, redundancies, 'design' flaws and downright mistakes which give die-hard Creationists the night sweats but don't bother biologists. Things don't survive because they are fit and flawless – they survive if their flaws don't matter. Homosexuality doesn't matter to evolution, any more than it matters to socialism.
For socialists, homophobia is like any other irrational hatred that divides the working class so that it is too weak to challenge the dominance of the ruling elite. While the poor tear at each other's throats, the rich are laughing at all of us.

The little capitalist (1964)

From the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

capitalist society is divided into two classes, a small minority owning the means of life (factories, land, etc.) and the vast majority owning little or nothing and consequently being compelled to hire themselves out to the owning class in order to obtain their means of existence. And the only sensible definition of this latter working class is that those who have no choice but to work for their living belong to it. Roughly speaking, in a modern capitalist country such as Britain about 90 per cent, of the population belong to the propertyless working class and the remainder constitute the capitalist class.

Now the above remarks are so obvious as to be truisms and one would think that there would be no need to re-iterate them to people who live all their lives in capitalist society. Nevertheless, there has always been a propensity among workers to confuse the issue (and themselves) by contending that they do not belong to the working class but to something that they are pleased to call the middle class. This attitude is prevalent among so-called white-collar workers, bank clerks, office staff and the like. These people, however, are suffering from self-delusion. The fact that they work for wages or salaries and can be sacked like any other workers if it is no longer profitable for their employers to use their services, should be proof enough for anyone that they fall in with our definition of the working class—that they must work for their living or they cannot live at all.

Strangely enough, however, many workers, instead of accepting this obvious division of society into two classes, have been more concerned to blur the division with border-line cases. One typical example that is often brought up is that of the small shopkeeper. Here, we are told, is a class of people many of whom have by dint of industry and thrift accumulated sufficient capital to enable them to climb out of the ranks of the working class to that happy state where they no longer work for an employer and are masters of their own fate. What substance is there in this story?

Let us consider a fairly typical—and true—example. This man had for over 20 years been a worker in the packaging industry, latterly as a departmental foreman. Like so many similar workers he had long dreamed of achieving his independence and by dint of much self-denial had saved over the years the not inconsiderable amount oft £2,000, a sum far beyond the reach of most workers. In due course he was able to use this sum as a deposit to buy the lease and goodwill of his dream business—a village store in the Home Counties. The balance of the purchase price (a further £3,000) was borrowed from a finance company who took a mortgage on the business as security. The rest of the story can be quickly told. He gave up his job and his home and moved into the shop with his family. For two years he (and his wife who had previously not been working plus help in their spare time from his two children at school) worked harder than he had ever done before. Customers appeared to be there in plenty and the shop was always busy, but somehow the takings and the profits always seemed to fall a little bit below what had been hoped for. The number of customers was as great as expected but their purchases were a little disappointing. One of the main reasons, it transpired, was that although there was no cut-price multiple store in the village (which was not big enough to attract one; if one had opened, it would have meant a quicker death for him) there were two in the nearby town and people were getting a fair amount of week-end supplies from there.

If the savings had been large enough to have paid the entire purchase price the venture would have been able to keep afloat, but as things were the mortgage repayments proved just that bit too high and he got further and further behind. The mortgage company acted with reasonable forbearance, but eventually the predestined end arrived and he was compelled to sell at the best price he could get in order to meet his obligations. Eventually, when he had given up the struggle and reckoned what he had lost in money and legal expenses, he found himself having to look for a new home and job with about £500 of his cash remaining. But, as he said, it could have been worse.

For the whole of the period, he confided, he had gone to bed worrying about money; when eventually he had managed to fall asleep he had dreamt about money; and when he woke up in the morning his first thought was, once again, money. During the day he and his wife had worked themselves to a standstill trying to economise on hired labour (but there was a limit to that because if customers were kept waiting too long they walked out). He would not allow an assistant to cut the bacon because he found there was waste at the end; only he could be trusted to cut it right out. Whenever possible, one of two fridges would be switched off to save coppers on the current. The whole of his existence was geared to skimping and scraping over pennies. This was the price of independence. Clearly it was not worth it.

And, of course, even the delusion of independence soon wore off. True there was no employer to warn him of impending dismissal if his work did not suit or his face did not fit. But every month he had to find the money to pay his bills for bread, cigarettes and detergents, otherwise the supplies would be cut off and the business closed (which would have meant the loss of the entire capital paid for the goodwill of the business). It did not take him long to realise that he had swapped one employer for a dozen. He was now acting as local distributor for the big firms who manufactured the goods sold in his shop. And he was doing this work at a rate per hour and with an expenditure of work and worry would have been quite unthinkable when he was an ordinary employee. How could he be no longer a worker when he was working harder than ever? And what a joke it was that he was providing the big food and tobacco combines with a quality of labour which they could not possibly get from their direct employees not many of whom would lie awake at nigh; worrying if the sales of Omo or Woodbines were falling below target.

Of course, it is true that most small shopkeepers seem to keep going; not all are forced out of the fight. Nevertheless, it is true that the heyday of the corner shop is over. The struggle with the giant multiple is too unequal and the little man finds the competition increasingly overpowering. Board of Trade figures show that a constant stream of grocers, greengrocers and the like are being forced out of the rat-race. And of those who remain, how many could honestly say that they are not really workers? If they counted the hours that they and their wives put in to the business they would possibly find that they were in reality not only workers but underpaid ones into the bargain. In their way they and their families put in their unpaid labour, the small shopkeepers are the peasants of our times. And like the peasants they are doomed to struggle until the establishment of a new economic order removes the monetary system and the need to worry about money.
L. E. Weidberg

Greasy Pole: European Union? Civil War? (2016)

The Greasy Pole column from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Have Your Say was the advice we were bombarded with from both sides in the European Referendum. Meanwhile the argument which raged between the factions Remain and Leave was not just between the main parties; in the case of the Tories the internal rift was sufficiently bitter to be dubbed a ‘civil war’. There was no concealing the fact that the conflict was central to the competing ambitions of Cameron and Boris Johnson, with the prize being Number Ten Downing Street. In a TV clash between a group of Front Bench MPs, Labour’s Angela Eagle blasted Johnson that his group’s campaign bus was touring the country flying a slogan that membership of the EU involved a British payment of £350 million a week, although a clutch of financial experts were definite that this figure was an exaggeration. So Johnson should ensure, Eagle raged, that it was removed from the streets. Another participant helpfully suggested that the figures Number Ten, illustrating Johnson’s inflating ambition, should be on the bus in place of that £350 million. Johnson’s response was to slip his hand into his breast pocket.
John Major
At the same time Cameron condemned the Tory Brexit argument about the cost of EU membership as ‘…perpetuating an economic con-trick on the British people’, part of an intention to be ‘reckless and undemocratic in failing to outline an economic plan for Britain outside of the EU’. On the matter of tricking the voters, Cameron should be reminded that from the security of his personal wealth he has led a government which will go down in history for its policies of depressing the living standards of masses of desperately impoverished people – a reality which justified a Eurosceptic MP in his party describing his latest move as ‘crass’ and ‘a slap in the face’. A similarly gruesome incident in the civil war was when ex-Prime Minister John Major, who occasionally appears in public exuding a sleek self-satisfaction, sneered at Johnson as a ‘court jester’ who was running a campaign which in its false claims about the levels of immigration was ‘squalid… deceitful… depressing’ - adjectives which could well  have been applied in relation to the policies of the Thatcher government of which Major was so prominent a member that Thatcher favoured him  as her most favoured successor.
Meanwhile there was no need for concern about Boris Johnson’s ability to defend himself in the Brexit trenches. On one of the main matters of the Referendum he warned that David Cameron ‘…can’t be trusted on immigration’ and that his regular promises to cut immigration were ‘deeply corrosive of popular trust in democracy’. This attack on Cameron would have been more impressive if Johnson had been able to support it with an explanation of why, and how, he had so recently been so firm a supporter of him from the vantage point of his Mayoralty of London and as a Member of Parliament.
Among the less publicised supporters of Leave was Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford. This is a seat he first took in the 2001 election – one of the few to be won back after the 1997 Labour landslide. Part of his campaign then was to parade Spike, a Staffordshire bull terrier, wrapped up in a Union Jack. During the next three elections, with the help of Spike, he increased his majority. Rosindell is one of Parliament’s natural Right Wingers. Among other things he was a member of the Monday Club, until Iain Duncan Smith forced him to resign; he is a supporter of the death penalty;  he  expressed  ‘huge admiration’ for President Pinochet;  in 2015 he introduced a Ten Minute Bill aimed at enforcing control over British borders with the European Union. A less publicised feature of the career of this ‘flag fanatic and super patriot’ was in 2010 when he sponsored a fund-raising dinner at the House of Commons  for what was known as Erotica House – an ‘adult entertainment show’ – followed by a dinner when it was obligatory to wear ‘kinky fancy dress’ (it is not known  whether this requirement extended to any of Spike’s friends). Erotica Ltd is based in Romford and is owned by one of Mr Rosindell’s wealthy supporters.
Michael Gove
Less arousing than Rosindell and his dog was Michael Gove, Minister of Justice, one-time close friend and neighbour of Cameron, who took a key role in spouting the case for leaving the EU, spiced with some typical Gove phrases. For example, he condemned Cameron and his supporters for ‘scaremongering’, of treating the British people like ‘…mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night’. Gove has had a varied career; there was a time when he might have been within reach of the party leadership but a very public clash with Theresa May caused him to be pushed down the Greasy Pole until his promotion to the Justice Ministry, which led to him becoming one of Boris Johnson’s leading supporters in Leave. He was so keen on this that he was encouraged to reveal that he came from a family of North Sea fishermen, with all that implies by way of hard work in tough conditions. In response a leader of the Labour Party Remain group, Alan Johnson, blasted Gove’s speech as ‘bluster’, part of his need to ‘…wish away reality but the truth is very credible’. Alan Johnson is no stranger to the stresses of politics; at a time when the Labour Party was in one of its spells of deeper disarray he was unwise enough to take on the job of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer only to be rapidly removed from it. He is however a renowned electioneer, which gave a particular force to his dismissal of Gove.
Have Your Say was the official advice from both sides in the Referendum. A hopeful change from the usual electoral dictate amounting to Shut Up, Believe What We Say And Vote Likewise. Which missed the fact that in this matter as in all others there was nothing to choose between the variously competing groups, even when they themselves were in such confusion. Why should anyone have supported any of them? The EU battle exposed the essential cross-party unity of capitalism’s politics, designed to defend and promote this class society and its inhumane divisions.

Sin on the Underground (1961)

From the February 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

What's your pet worry? The Congo? H-Bombs? The Cold War? Anybody who is preoccupied with these pleasantries may have missed the petty censorship which was recently imposed upon London's Tube stations and which passed, in fact, with only a little comment from one or two newspapers and the House of Lords. The subject of this censorship was a poster issued by the Family Planning Association which, after being displayed on many Tube stations, was withdrawn when the Transport Commission received some objections to it. The Commission justified their action by referring to a ruling of theirs which states that they “. . . will not accept posters which refer to religious or sacred subjects in a manner which might give offence or which contain matter or illustrations likely to be considered religiously controversial." 

What sort of a poster was it, to involve this ruling? We decided to find out. We spent a fortune on Tube fares, our eyes grew sore on advertisements for corsets, for films starring curvy B.B. or tough- slugging Westerners. We saw posters which exhorted the rush hour workers to partake of gracious living by drinking a certain Brown Ale—with out-of focus candelabra in the background.

Apparently, nothing in this pot-pourri of sex, violence and alcohol had raised a murmur of protest. At last we found the poster. We examined it closely, searched diligently for something in it which a reasonable person might object to. We could find none. It was not offensive, nor was it lewd. If anything, the people in it were a little overdressed.

It is difficult, then, to imagine the majority of Tube passengers objecting to this advertisement. We can only assume that it was removed because of a minority of religious purgers, who pressed their point in a barrage of protest. We have seen this happen before; the Lord’s Day Observance Society has used the technique for years, often against Roman Catholics. A more subtle method of suppression, this, than of yore, when Catholics would reduce to human charcoal any burglar or peasant who had difficulty in grasping a Papal chemical formula about bread and wine turning into flesh and blood. Or when Calvinists would burn a scholar who rejected a complex theory which held that there was a being called God, who was three people—and at the same time only one. More subtle, because the spread of materialist knowledge has made it harder to whip up hatred over theological disputes; but still reprehensible. For human progress depends upon the decisions of conscious people, not upon gags applied to society by a sanctimonious minority.

What about birth control? Much of the opposition to it is almost a mania for the intensely personal nature of sexual relationships makes it easy to rouse strong feelings in the matter. Some opponents—notably the Catholics —maintain that the use of contraceptives is a defiance of the "Almighty Will": others that it invites an increase in juvenile promiscuity. Can we expect, then, that Catholics are not promiscuous? The Chief Medical Officer of the London County Council has reported that during 1959 there were 183 unmarried female immigrants from Catholic, anti-birth control Eire who, because they were pregnant when they came to this country, had to be assisted by the L.C.C. Welfare department. The Catholic Church is as helpless as any other organisation in these matters. Without a doubt, much of the religious opposition to birth control is roused by the fact that it is an attempt to shape our own environment, instead of leaving it to the will of a mythical supernatural being.

In fact, birth control is at present only a method of spreading out workers' relative poverty, an attempt to prevent ourselves slipping too far into degradation and dire need. Whether we practice it or not, whether we have two children or sixteen we remain workers, depending on our wage to live. In underdeveloped countries, birth control is often given official backing, but the older established capitalist nations leave it as a matter of personal choice, only raising the issue of government support in. for example, times of slump.

We should remember that man’s future lies within his own society and that birth control could be a factor in fashioning the sort of world that man desires. But this in turn depends upon man’s social knowledge and his rejection of, for example, religious theories with their threats of hellfire and purgatory. When he has reached that stage, he will be facing the many aspects of living a civilised life in a developed society and there will be no bigots to decide what he may or may not do.
Jack Law

London a hundred years ago (2002)

Book Review from the March 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The People of the Abyss by Jack London. Pluto Press, Centenary edition, £10.99 paperback, 192 pages.

Those vaguely familiar with Jack London know him as a skilled writer, basing many of his stories on experiences from his rich, colourful and often dangerous life. Few remember him as the skilled political commentator and social critic who exposed many of the inequalities of his day. The People of the Abyss is Jack London the investigative reporter giving an impassioned account of the degradation and squalor endured by the people of the East End of London in 1902, and this year marks the centenary of his visit to this part of London.
Living in the East End doss houses, London posed as a stranded American sailor, down on his luck. He mingled with the poorest of the poor, worked alongside them, ate with them, drank with them and slept amongst them in the workhouses. His observations are documented in full; and this is no work of fiction. This is the London in the days when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was about to be formed, and reading Jack London's account of the privation endured by millions of his fellow workers, one can't help but ask why the clamour for an end to capitalism was not being screamed from every rooftop. He attempts an answer himself:
“Unhealthy working and living engenders unhealthy appetites and desires. Man cannot be worked worse than a horse is worked, and be fed and housed as a pig is fed and housed, and at the same time have clean and wholesome ideals and aspirations.”
And who could blame them? For many in the East End of London in 1902, the daily struggle to live absorbed all their energies. Their life expectancy was 30 years; 55 percent of children died before the age of five. Hundreds of thousands of impoverished men and women yearned only the public houses and alcohol in a pathetic attempt to “express their gregariousness” and because intoxication finally “brings the oblivion that nothing else can bring”. This is the England “where a constant army of 8 million lives on the border of starvation”; where hundreds of thousands of families inhabit one room, and where “children take turn about in sitting up and drive the rats away from the sleepers; where the lucky go insane and the courageous commit suicide. And all of this when Britain had the largest empire ever know and milked the world
The Socialist Party was not alone in the formative years of the 20th Century in pointing out that we live in the world of potential abundance. Lamenting the widespread starvation of the day, the “hunger wail” that echoed across the British Isles, London comments:
“And this in face of the fact that five men can produce bread for a thousand; that one workman can produce cotton cloth for 250 people, woollens for 300 and boots and shoes for 1000 . . . and who dares to say that it is not mismanaged, this big house, when five men can produce bread for a thousand, and yet millions have not enough to eat?”
The People of the Abyss is a masterly recording of the lives of the masses in 1902, and a poignant indictment on the capitalist system, and London is to be commended. However he affords us no solution to the ills of the system he lambasts, but rather finishes with a lengthy note about how it is being mismanaged by its rulers, before ending:
“There can be no mistake. Civilisation has increased man's producing powers an hundred-fold, and through mismanagement the men of Civilisation live worse than the beasts, and have less to eat and wear and protect them from the elements than the savage Inuit in a frigid climate who lives today as he lived in the stone age ten thousand years ago.”
The People of the Abyss deserves to be read, for a century after this book was written it is still possible to record the same, in spite of all the scientific and technological breakthroughs that have occurred since 1902 and which should be benefiting humanity.
John Bissett

Ups and downs (2005)

Book Review from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capital Resurgent. Roots of the Neoliberal Revolution. By Gérard Dumenil and Dominique Lévy. Harvard University Press. £35.95.

The first parts of this book are filled with graphs and tables which deal with categories Marxists can recognise, such as the rate of profit, the rate of capital accumulation, and the share of wages and of profits in value added. Dumenil and Lévy argue that what drives the capitalist economy is the rate of profit and that this had begun to fall even in the 1960s. They explain this by the slow-down in the technological progress of the previous two decades which had provided an expanding market for producer goods and so had driven the whole economy forward; this resulted in a fall in the rate of capital accumulation and consequently in the high level of unemployment that was a feature of the 1970s and 1980s. This is one possible Marxian explanation.

But then the approach changes. In the 1970s double-digit inflation benefited industrial capital at the expense of finance capital as loans could be repaid in depreciated money. According to Dumenil and Lévy, finance capital fought back by staging what they call a “coup” on 1979 – a sudden rise in interest rates as a way of trying to stop inflation. This put the boot on the other foot with, again according to the authors, firms having to use their profits to repay loans rather than re-investing them, so penalising growth and sustaining unemployment. This marked the beginning, they say, of the current period of “neoliberalism”, of deregulation and return to “free market” economics, as practised by Reagan in America and Thatcher in Britain.

Dumenil and Lévy see this as a deliberate policy choice, imposed by finance capital and its representatives in government rather than any government’s reaction to a particular set of capitalist conditions. Their position can be summed up as “another policy is possible” (rather less ambitious than “another world is possible”, but a more accurate reflection of what the movement whose slogan this is actually stands for). This other policy turns out to be the sort of monetary, financial and tax measures favoured, and applied in the 1950s and 60s, by the Keynesians which, according to the authors, worked acceptably enough, as far as this sort of thing is possible under capitalism, until the rate of profit dropped for other reasons and finance capital staged its coup.

A rather odd conclusion for writers claiming to be in the Marxist tradition, but even odder is their analysis of the 1929 crash and 1930s slump in purely monetary and financial terms, even suggesting that these could have been avoided if the right policies had been pursued.
Adam Buick

Royal parasites (1998)

Book Review from the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Royals By Kitty Kelley. Warner Books, 1997.

There is a succinct quote in Kelley's new work which she attributes to a reporter writing on "The Firm" after Fergie's arrival on the scene: "Covering the royal family is like riding down a sewer in a glass bottomed boat." Indeed, sewage is all any decent study of the royal family would uncover and if the interested individual wishes to have their royal prejudices confirmed, this is the book to read.

In 500 pages, Kelley traces the royals from the timely name-change in 1917 (from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor) to the aftermath of the Charles-Diana split-up, en route pulling no punches in showing them to be the decrepit and outmoded institution they always have been and lambasting, without compunction, all of the main royal protagonists this century.

Recounting tales from emotional starvation to buggery and other sexual excesses, and questioning much royal parentage, Kelley shows herself to be as indifferent to the feelings of the royals as the latter are to their kin and their subjects. What Kelley exposes is a family no more fit to "rule" than the mentally retarded offspring they have surreptitiously had hidden from public view; a family obsessed with wealth, sex and privilege who will go to any lengths to maintain the same, from secret deals with Hitler to phone-tapping and media prosecutions. A family peopled by the racialist, the arrogant, the conceited, the pompous, the ill-mannered, sad and pathetic.

Humour abounds, from Lady Rothchild's claim that "we need to protect the royals from themselves", to a quote from Bernard Shaw describing them as "ruling by hallucination". And Kelley herself brings a smile to our lips, for instance, when she asserts that (at the time of the Charles-Diana wedding) "Britons needed to believe in the fairy tale to distance themselves from the awful reality of inner-city riots, IRA bombings and widespread unemployment".

Critics of Kelley's book, and they are legion, have suggested much of its content is hearsay and unsubstantiated but if only a fraction of what she claims were to be true then The Firm has a difficult time ahead.

The book is yet to be published this side of the Atlantic - most publishers fearing an expensive law suit - and it has received hardly any reviews. For the anti-royalist, this book is a treasure-trove. For the socialist, just another chapter in our Grand Remonstrance against capitalism. Though The Royals stands as an indictment of monarchy, their end will be no real cause for celebration. "A few less parasites on our backs" means simply that, altering not one iota the fact that we would continue to exist in a republic as wage slaves.
John Bissett