Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Belonging to Our Belongings (2016)

The Proper Gander Column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The usual concept behind a ‘social experiment’ TV show is to throw people into situations outside their usual routines, such as plonking them somewhere remote and seeing how they cope (Castaway 2000Eden) or dressing them up in period clothes to live as if they’re in a previous era (The 1900 House (2000) et al). However much light these programmes shed on how we adapt to different circumstances, there's often a whiff of them being the televisual equivalent of putting a load of cats and dogs in a cage and prodding them with sticks. The grand-daddy of this kind of show is Big Brother (2000 onwards), which rapidly degenerated from its almost-anthropological origins into a boring and degrading guessing-game over which of the housemates will shag and/or argue first. Fortunately, Life Stripped Bare (Channel 4) is much less tawdry, despite being an excuse to film people getting their kit off.
Unlike the above shows, Life Stripped Bare doesn’t move its participants into a different place to live. Instead, it leaves them in their own homes, but without any of their furniture, appliances, phones, wallets, nick-nacks and, indeed, clothes. All their possessions are boxed up and locked in a storage container nearby, leaving them with just basic food rations. For the first few hours, there’s little the naked participants can do except sit awkwardly under similarly bare windows. On each of the following days they can choose just one item to get back from storage. During the experiment’s three weeks, they can’t buy or borrow anything apart from food and drink, and they must carry on with their daily lives. Afterwards, they’ll decide which of their belongings they really want back.
Among participant Heidi’s 861 possessions are 31 bikinis and 68 vinyl records. She feels that her ‘stuff’ defines her, so she’s interested to find out who she really is without her belongings. She’s concerned that people won’t like her without her jewellery and make-up, and she feels she’ll get left behind if she doesn’t check social media several times an hour. She says it’s ‘pretty sad’ that she’s defined her life by how many Instagram followers she has, aware that there’s something hollow about her own mindset. Another participant, John, recognises that he’s lost the art of conversation because of the amount of time he spends looking at a screen.
Understandably, the first items they choose to get back from storage are clothes, or used to make them. After reclaiming her first few items, Heidi says that the novelty of getting something else back wears off within minutes, whereas at the start she got a high with each reclaimed item: ‘The more stuff I get back, the less happy I am'. On day five, Andrew and Georgia choose their phones, while housemate Tom instead picks some socks, saying that having his phone isn’t in the spirit of the exercise. A week later he chooses his hitherto under-used piano, wanting to take the opportunity to learn to play it while he has fewer distractions.
After the 21 days, lorries return to the participants’ homes and they get their remaining belongings back. The final part of the experiment is to decide how many of them they want to keep. Together, the three households get rid of nearly a third of their possessions, and feel better for de-cluttering. Heidi says she used to feel that she needs belongings to make her who she is, and comes to believe she wasted her time validating her life through social media. She learns to worry less about needing other people’s approval, put things more into perspective, and make the most of what she’s got.
The point of Life Stripped Bare isn’t to find out how well we can survive with few possessions. It’s more about exploring how we relate to what we own. Which of our belongings are most important to us, why, and what do they say about how we feel about ourselves? The relative scarcity of possessions (and the threat of their scarcity) in capitalism underpins our attitudes to what we possess. Owning things represents some kind of security, and we’re encouraged to equate success with having lots of stuff. Which particular commodities we own, and the extent to which we define ourselves through them, often hinges on how well they have been marketed to us. What we own also affects how we relate to other people, whether we rely on how we’re dressed to win respect or if having phones with social media alienates us as well as brings us together. We've always attached meanings to our belongings, and always will. How we do this depends on the way society mediates between ourselves and what we can own. Capitalism both restricts us and pressurises us into owning stuff, so no wonder there’s often something troubling about how we relate to our possessions, as Heidi and the other participants in Life Stripped Bare found out. With all the questions the programme raises about our attachments to our belongings, it’s ironic that it’s sponsored, and by Samsung Home Appliances.
Mike Foster

The Audible Unsung Ally (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The BBC enjoys, probably justly, the reputation of being the most “respectable”, honest and impartial broadcasting organization in the world. As such, a global audience tunes in to its programmes in many languages which go out around the clock.

Having said that, a comparatively short article in The Guardian of 16th May 1974 explains just what, within the context of capitalism, such a reputation for honesty and impartiality means.

The article dealing with the proposed cuts in expenditure on overseas broadcasting is, most aptly, entitled “A business ally in jeopardy”. About half-way through comes the first really significant paragraph:
The BBC World Service means a lot of things to many people. One of its lesser known activities, however, is the influence it has on Britain’s exports.
This ally of British manufacturers broadcasts a variety of programmes expounding the achievements of British industry and technology. Mr. G. E. Mansell, Managing Director of the BBC’S External Services, is quoted as saying:
We not only mention British Science, technology, industry and exports, but we report any noteworthy achievements in these fields on our world news bulletins, on Radio Newsreel and the various magazine and specialist programmes we broadcast.
Also, when British overseas exhibitions and promotions are mounted, the BBC foreign language services usually broadcast programmes on the event and the companies and products involved. Later Mr. Mansell states: 
The very existence of a British broadcasting service which is respected everywhere for its efficiency and integrity reflects well on the efficiency and integrity of the UK and helps to create a favourable climate for the British exporter.
Enquiries resulting from these programmes are passed straight to the manufacturers. That this has proved vastly profitable to the latter can be seen from the following.

In 1973 BBC External Services received 300,000 enquiries from all over the world. 4,500 of these were generated by just one programme “New Ideas”. A “News from Britain” broadcast in Japanese brought 1,000 enquiries. From a BBC survey of 300 companies, 49 per cent, reported enquiries directly resulting from broadcasts; some had as many as 200. One company, Halden Engines, stated that they were over-run (our emphasis) with enquiries after mention on the German and World Services. Their order books for 2-stroke engines are full and they plan to open a new factory to meet the increased demand.

Today the External Services broadcast approximately 100 hours a day in 40 languages and BBC statistics show that they have 60 million regular (daily!) listeners and a further 72 million tune in occasionally.

Some time ago we saw a lot of posters proclaiming “It pays to advertise”. Obviously it is even more profitable if the most respected broadcasting corporation in the world will do it for you; not just without charge, but without even being asked to do so!
Eva Goodman

"Some" Stock-Taking (1916)

Editorial from the September 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

With this issue we commence the thirteenth volume of The Socialist Standard. For twelve years we have struggled to preserve this mouthpiece of the class-conscious workers’ political party, and those who know the history of that struggle know that it has been a severe one. The financial difficulties of the undertaking, manfully shouldered by the mere handful of stalwarts who composed the Party in the first few weeks of its existence, were only overcome by long years of grim, patient, unremitting toil —but they were overcome. Working-class enemies of the working class, squirming under our criticism like noisome things of darkness exposed to the light of the sun, tried to stifle us in the law courts by means of that instrument —the law of libel—which rogues have placed in the hands of their fellow rogues in order to shield them from the attacks of honest men. We survived that ordeal also.

Other enemies have left no stone unturned in their endeavours to secure the suppression of our organ, and have howled themselves hoarse into the ears of “constituted authority.” But we have fought our fight with circumspection, determined that if we went down it should be upon the real issue, and in the full blaze of the light generated in and of the class struggle. On such terms “constituted authority,” much as it has hated us, has declined to put us down.

Years of hard and faithful work had the desired and expected result. Our journal came to to recognised as a serious and potent weapon in the class struggle. Just as our declared principles, and the policy arising therefrom, stood alone in the English-speaking world at fulfilling the requirements of the political party of the working class, so our paper, in which those principles were expounded with all the vigour at our command and the revolutionary policy consistently applied to every situation that arose, has come to be regarded as unique. Hence it finds, readers in almost all capitalist countries, and in English-speaking countries abroad its circulation is now considerable, as such things go.

The results are tangible. At home, at a time when our Party organ is almost our sole means of public propaganda, and when our chief avenue of circulation—the propaganda meeting —is for the time being closed to us, our sales are fully maintained, thus ensuring the continuance of our work under almost impossible conditions. But valuable as this is it is not the only result of our labour. The test of this orgy of blood, when every passion has been appealed to by wily politicians and callous owners of property, in order to inveigle men into a business which but for ignorant passion they would loathe, has found our principles sufficient and our policy sound. Taking our stand upon the fundamental antagonism of interests between the two classes in society, we have kept ourselves clear of the crushing tentacles of the octopus nationalism. And this without any change of policy, or any deviation from principle, or any trimming in the smallest particular, to meet the altered circumstances.

This final testimony of tense and harassing events has crowned all our years of arduous toil in a manner that makes the impregnability of our position obvious to all men who have eyes see, and the lesson has, by our official journal, been carried to the furthermost ends of the earth. Honest workers overseas, groping in darkness, have seen the beacon, and are shaping their course by it. Under the quiet but compelling influence of The Socialist Standard the ground is being prepared in more than one country for the establishment of working-class political organisations on S.P.G.B. lines.

So, at the end of twelve years, and in a moment of great peril, we may look back cheerfully, dated and sustained by what we have been able to accomplish rather than cast down by that which we have failed to do. It is true that during the present crisis we have not been able to say all that we could wish. But we have always maintained that those who control the political machinery control the forces of coercion, and we have always declared ourselves against trying conclusions with those forces so long as other and better means remain open to us. The spectacular has never appealed to the Socialist Party, and it has always been our policy to leave “thrills” to the sensation-mongers. We have preferred, therefore (and this remark applies no less to times of “peace” than to this time of war, for we could at any period of our history have gone down in a blaze of fireworks, amid the plaudits of the shallow pates of the gallery) to survive to carry on our work of education—dull, stodgy, ox-like work if you choose to call it such, but work essentially necessary to our victory.

But if we have not said all we should have liked we have said all that, in the difficult circumstances, we could; and beyond this, we have never said or written one word in all these troublous months, that will not stand the test of Socialist criticism. When it became impossible, owing to the Defence of the Realm Regulations, to defend the Socialist position on the public platform, we closed down our propaganda meetings rather than continue under restrictions which could only result in injury to our cause. But in our paper we have upheld the Socialist position through it all. Alone among all those in the belligerent countries claiming to be Socialists, as far as we have been able to ascertain, we took the right path at the start, and have steadily held to it.

So whether we sink or swim, whether the volume we are now commencing runs to a normal end or early meets the bully's extinguisher, we are happy to know that in its inextinguishable pages of the past two years, now safely and surely in the keeping of the working class of the world, there is the record of a Socialist party successfully withstanding the shock of the severest test it could be put to short of the final phase of its revolutionary struggle, and withstanding it, not on the strength of two or three ultra-tragic limelight “heroes,” but on the simple strength of its own sound principles and organisation.

Well for Socialism, well for the cause of working-class emancipation, that when this orgy of blood and entrails is finished, and the battered and torn and quivering remnants of the working class of the world are permitted to lay down their instruments of murder and staunch their pouring wounds, it may be pointed out to them that though they were betrayed on every hand in this tragic crisis, in the one case where they organised upon Socialist principles, they were able to keep their actions free from reproach and their movement free from taint.


We are going to win this war—the CLASS ! War. Join up and do your bit.

Obituaries: Alec Hart and Alf Crisp (2004)

Obituaries from the February 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alec Hart (1924-2004)

Alec Hart died in his 80th year in South Africa where he had lived for almost 50 years. Alec came across the Socialist Party when he heard a young speaker, Doug Verity, at a meeting in Finsbury Park, North London. He was so impressed with the case for Socialism that he arranged for Doug to address the youth club he attended, and politically, Alec never looked back.

He joined the Party in 1944 and influenced some of his siblings, two of whom (including the writer at the age of 16) also joined. Alec was a member of the old Islington branch and was sometime branch treasurer. He much valued the Education Classes held in the 1940’s at the Rugby Chambers Head Office, especially the Economics Classes. He always challenged non- or anti-socialist comments and arguments and often crossed political swords with Father and other members of the family. In 1956 he followed and later married a girlfriend when she went to live in South Africa, and although they eventually parted, he couldn’t face returning to the English climate and the problems of resettling there.

Throughout the repressive regime of apartheid he remained staunchly socialist, even though the South African Special Branch paid attention to him, by visiting him and also examining his mail, and at one time the Socialist Standard and Party pamphlets were gazetted in South Africa as prohibited literature. However, at Alec’s insistence, and with little concern about the risk this posed for him, the Socialist Standard was sent to him regularly as well as Party pamphlets etc. as they were published. He wrote and often had published, letters to the South African press giving the socialist view on current topics and replying to other correspondents in the press.

He was very knowledgeable about classical music and built up a large collection of records. A keen cyclist, he took many holidays touring by bike in the UK and in South Africa. Ill-health in his last few years took him into residential care where he shared a room with a very deaf old Trotskyite, and political arguments between them usually ended with Alec’s opponent removing his deaf-aid when he’d “had enough”. Alec though never gave up.
Phyllis Hart

Alf Crisp (1908-2003)

We are sad to announce the death in November of Alf Crisp at the age of 95. Alf was a Londoner who for most of his life lived in Forest Gate. He joined West Ham Branch in August 1930, and remained in that Branch, though the name changed, until moving to Cambridgeshire in 1991 to be near his son Malcolm. Thereafter in Central Branch he maintained his close interest in Socialism and friendship with members. His wife died in 1967 so Alf had 36 years on his own.

Until the age of 75 he worked as a printer, for many years in his own business, but subsequently for other printers - colleagues. Printing was more than a job, his attitude was that of a craftsman, but he never made a fortune at it. He undertook printing for the party which included membership cards and posters for meetings. In most cases no charge was made.

Alf was a conscientious objector during WW2, as was his brother. West Ham Branch made the most of the post-war environment, and Alf joined in with the activities. In later years his contribution would be in the form of regular support for Branch meetings. He is remembered as a pleasant and thoughtful comrade who would on occasion express his opinion in a forthright manner. He would make his political views known whenever an opportunity was presented. Malcolm tells of an incident not many years ago when his father was virtually ejected from the afternoon tea session at the Day Centre in Over; he had made loud protestations when the National Anthem was sung there to mark some royal event.

He made new friends in Cambridgeshire and was able to pursue his hobbies, notably woodwork and music. Alf was a skilled pianist and had a lifelong interest in musical instruments, making a hammered dulcimer in his eighties. We extend sympathy to Malcolm and his family.
Pat Deutz

Circumstances alter cases. (1915)

Editorial from the July 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

Probably no newspaper carried on a more vigorous campaign against the Red Peril, a year ago, than the “Daily Express.” That the “Socialism” it attacked was, in the main, State Capitalism, is a fact which only adds piquancy to its present attitude.

Before dealing with that interesting phenomenon, however, it is necessary to point out once more that the difference between "State Socialism” and Socialism, is the difference between slavery and freedom for the workers. In the former, the elements of the new society are present, but until the workers own and control, all the benefit goes to the capitalists; overwork and poverty is the workers’ only share. Until the proletariat have fought the class war to a successful conclusion, they are still the hirelings or wage slaves of a class of parasites. That is why the class straggle is the great Socialist principle, and that is what distinguishes us from the pseudo Socialists. Thus the development of large-scale industry, whether in trust or State, is but the economic basis of Socialism. It is the means which the working class triumphant must seize and utilise for the commonweal.

The “Express," however, used to call any form of State enterprise Socialism, and it is ludicrous to find that journal advocating the very thing that it formerly branded as the end of all things.

But let it speak for itself. In dealing with the war it said on June 19th:
“All that is required is an extension of the system which was applied to the railways as soon as war broke out. The railways were immediately taken over by the State. So smoothly do things run that we probably do not realise that to day every railway employee is a State employee paid by the State, and that every passenger travels as a passenger of the State, and pays his fare to the State. . . . The same principle must be applied to every other war industry with the smallest amount of delay for the period of the war. The larger industries, such as coal and shipping and the manufacture of general munitions, and the supply of the nation’s food, must be taken over at once The smaller industries must be absorbed by the State as occasion demands— for the term of the war.”
Yet the "Express” used to say that what it now advocates was utterly impracticable, and the deadliest foe to efficiency ! It was said to be an impossibility for a government to take over and organise such vast and complex industries, yet no sooner does it become necessary to the interests of the master class than the thing is done, in the two vital industries, in the twinkling of an eye, while the “Express” barks for more. From an impracticable, hare-brained scheme it becomes an extremely practical necessity. From being a grave danger because it would inevitably foster inefficiency and cause waste, it becomes the sovereign way to increase efficiency and eliminate waste. Formerly, the absence of the vivifying breath of competition was said to mean industrial death; now competition is abolished in the vital industries because co-operation alone is life. Formerly the very basis of the British Empire was individual initiative and private enterprise; now the Empire is in danger because of the chaotic inefficiency of individual initiative and the utter failure of private enterprise—and to save the Empire these very things must be abolished in the most essential industries. Truly the right about face of the capitalist Press is remarkable, even for them. But wait! perhaps they have not yet done turning.

We used also to be told that Socialism menaced the liberty of the individual and meant the regimentation, the ticketing, the registration and State surveillance of the people. Bat even so, the objector was worrying himself unnecessarily, for it is certain that this “liberty,” so far as the mass of the people are concerned, has been interned or repatriated ages ago; while with regard to the awful charge of wishing to label, control, and register men and women, well, the free born Briton has, for the past few rears, been undergoing a Prussianisation that bids fair to leave its prototype far in the rear.

The workers were classified, ticketed, and docked, suffering pains in the pocket, in that great ninepence for fourpence swindle. Then the Defence of the Realm Act hit them below the belt. Next comes the Munitions Bill to give them a farther dig in the ribs, while close on its heels follows the National Register, with its questions, its penalties, and its precious certificate that is to certify our servitude.

It would be truly carious to find out what arguments the capitalists have left even against the bogey they label as Socialism. When their interests demand it they throw their arguments to the winds and lay bare the lying hypocrisy of their assertions. Circumstances, they urge, alter cases. Undoubtedly. And in this case the circumstances have shown that the helpless inefficiency and wasteful dishonesty of their boasted private enterprise is very much worse even than their capitalist State enterprise.

And where are those damnable frauds who professed to be opposed to Socialism because it menaced the liberty which was supposed to exist in this country, and which was dearer to these frauds than life itself? We have listened in vain for the protests against the Register, etc., by the Liberty and Property Defence League or any similar body. Those doughty champions of individual liberty in the Anti-Socialist Union who never tired of assailing us on the false ground that we advocate what the Government is now doing, are now silent and acquiescent.

The sad truth is that under cover of national necessity the chains of servitude are being fastened more firmly upon the limbs of the worker. Nevertheless there is no room for pessimism. Economic development proceeds apace. The ruling class, in the pursuit of its interests, refutes its own arguments, eats its own words, and, in very truth, helps dig its own grave. Socialism is ever more clearly demonstrated to be both possible and necessary. Every fresh phase of capitalism throws into relief the antagonism of classes, and indicates the need for the working class to become masters of the State, and use its supreme economic power for the liberation of human kind from wage slavery. And the day of that liberation may come sooner than we now dare to think.

Editorial: Our Tenth Volume. (1914)

Editorial from the August 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard
With this issue we close the 10th volume of the Socialist Standard. When the history of the final struggle for working-class emancipation comes to be written, the history of these ten volumes will form so integral and by no means uninteresting part of those records. The story of the bold shouldering of the heavy responsibility, both financial and journalistic, of the production of such an organ, by the few men and women who founded the Socialist Party; the struggle to maintain the paper against the attacks of those who saw in it a working-class weapon that was to be feared, and therefore hated; the long and bitter fight for the foremost place in working class political papers: all these are phases of working-class striving that will not be forgotten when the struggle is over and classes are no more.

At the moment, however, the most interesting as well as the most important thing to he pointed out is that the 10th volume closes exactly as the 1st commenced —the free and untrammelled weapon of working-class revolution and emancipation. The reason of this is not far to seek. It is simply that at its founding it was placed upon the firm base prescribed by the principles in the light of which the Socialist Party shape their every action. Hence its continued and growing success as a revolutionary weapon is a further triumph for, and vindication of, those principles.

It is quite as it should be that the circulation of our official organ is larger now than it baa been at any time in its existence. In this it marks the steady progress of the Party and the Party’s propaganda. Resolutely declining to trust to the fickle favours of passing sensation, we have to fight hard to gain ground—but once we have gained it we never lose it: it is ours for all time.

It is this steady march, sustained not on the seductive sweets offered in sensations and side issues, but on the solid bread of Socialist knowledge—the propaganda of the principle of the class struggle—that makes us feared and hated by the master class of this country and their henchmen as no other political party is feared and hated.

To this result, desirable because it is a certain symptom of a successful fight, the Socialist Standard contributes in a very large degree, hence it behoves all those who desire to see the progress and triumph of the revolutionary propaganda, to give their whole-hearted, ungrudging, and consistent support to our Party organ, to the end that it may go on from success to greater success in its mission of fitting the workers for the struggle that lies before them.